MOVING ON: A Crucifix, Sandalwood & Lemon Lysol
Updated: Sep 20
We've finally made it to the last chapter of this series about #MeToo, rape and death threats, violence, psychological abuse, self-loathing mental health, PTSD, and predators. Be warned: Here there be 'Beasties. And cookies! I do promise cookies at the end.
I AM NOT AN OBJECT - More Rape & Death Threats
CLOVEN FRUIT - Dodging Devils in the Pale Moonlight
DROWNING - When the Rum Runs Through
BULLSHIT MANWICH: The Lies We Believe (And Parrot Ourselves)
...In a last-ditch attempt to get it through Graham's head, I committed my biggest transgression of all. I threw a fit, mutinied, and cleaned the entire apartment, except for his side of MY bedroom. That did not go over well. How dare I wash and put away my own laundry but throw his dirty clothes onto his ever-growing mountain? What right did I have to say one friggin’ word about the bugs I found under his nasty t-shirt?
I’m such an unreasonable bitch.
To top it all off, I learned that he had been faking combat-induced PTSD--yes, the whole litany of fictional nightmares, flashbacks, mumbled descriptions of burned bodies and all.
100% MANWICH BULLSHIT.
The truth was that he had been kicked out of basic training for decking his drill sergeant.
Oh. And that fancy GTO he had “once owned” hadn’t been demolished by his sister in a wreck that had “almost killed her.” He’d never owned a GTO. Had never even been able to acquire a loan for one.
That’s something else I’ve never understood about dating norms. What is it with all this pressure females put on a guy about the vehicle he drives?
Dude, I drove Toyota Tercels until they fell apart because that didn’t happen until they had over 250,000 miles on them. Their little engines still COULD long after their wheel wells had been rusted out from the salt on Minnesota roads. (In my family, we created “wheel wells” from spray foam and spray paint because the important parts of the vehicle were still boxy little powerhouses.) So I didn’t give one fornicating fig about what kind of car Graham “used to drive.”
Are sportscars groovy? Sure.
Personally, I find fiscal responsibility, intimacy, and a little thing called honesty far sexier. For me, the important part of those GTO tales was not the price tag, thunderous horses, or sleek, sporty paint jobs. It was the vulnerability and trust placed into my hands when this man opened up about the pain he’d experienced in “almost losing his sister.” It was the fact that he could relate to my own night terrors.
But see, these types know that. (1-4)
They can smell a bleeding heart damsel like I could smell his rotting food under his unwashed laundry.
Upon learning the truth about these things when I met a guy from Graham’s hometown, I could not fathom that caliber of dishonesty and manipulation. Like--glitch--you mean...like--? I still can’t to this day, but at least I’ve learned how easy it is for so many people. Talk about a con-artist.
I’ve always been great fodder for those. Remember that neurodivergent social bafflement, my hyper-literalism, my open-bookness, and all those Supertraits? (2, 3)
My education into this subject deepened when I confronted my boyfriend that night. He did not deny it. His retort: “Well, how else was an average-joe like me ever supposed to get a girl like you?”
My mouth was transformed into the Grand Canyon when I heard that, because no amount of human jaw hinges opening--heck, no flip-top head could have ever allowed enough flabbergasted air to gust from my lungs.
I blinked a few times. Screwed up my face, blinked a bit more. “Let me get this straight. In order to 'get me,' you faked PTSD flashbacks and nightmares, then concocted some gory story about your sister nearly dying in a roll-over?!?!”
Yes. Only italics and interrobangs will do for that particular statement of indignant neuron-misfiring.
His only response was to mumble something about being “cool enough” to have owned a GTO while he flashed me the "remorse-filled" eyes that had suckered me back in so many times in the past.
It worked, didn’t it?
Fuckin’ Annie complex. Gotta save those strays. And always need saving yourself, don’tcha?
Don't need to. You do that enough.
See how ugly it used to get inside my head? My abusers used to have nothing on the things I absorbed and then parroted at myself. My replies as I tried to get that judgy, abusive, caustic critic in my head to shut up were even worse.
We’re rectified that.
The Committee is now quite cooperative and almost solely non-abusive (except when somebody accidentally slips, and then we try to be firm but understanding about it). But back then? Well, I’ve let you in on enough of what used to comprise my internal dialogues for you to see just how ugly I could be to myself. With that much pent-up shame, guilt and rage, it had to go somewhere. Having experienced what it was like to have that shit taken out on me by the externally violent, I became my own primary recipient.
But something finally snapped the day I learned the truth about Graham.
Incense, Water, Earth & Light
on the original Eros Altar (The Altar of Love)
Here’s the deal with me. When I do actually stick up for myself and drop the hammer of doom, it is usually cold. Concise. Professional. Usually it’s Spock who takes the driver’s seat at that point, because everybody else has exhausted a gazillion Supertraited options, ideas, alternatives, work-arounds, negotiations, warnings, requests, compromises, and creative solutions for addressing the problems, and we’ve finally run out of “ride or die” steam to fight for it any longer. Run out of steam to feel anything about it, too.
When I’m done, I am fucking DONE. It’s like a light switch shutting off.
I reach this point far more quickly now--sometimes too quickly in a knee-jerk reaction. Eh. It's a process. It's a practice. But back then, I had the stamina and the rosy-eyed gumption to keep a nuclear power plant running. It created a nice toxic waste dump in my basement, too. I would eventually have to get it sliced off my cervix before it dug in and killed me.
So as I sat there on my couch, listening, absorbing, analyzing, collating, Graham suddenly looked very young to my eyes. He stood before me, arms crossed, trying to explain himself. Almost like he should have been scraping the toe of his big boot on my carpet with a sullen scowl.
I realized in that moment that he had only ever allowed himself to be intimate and open with me while telling me tales of some gruesome combat mission no doubt concocted from that video game he played obsessively. Or while describing what his sister looked like when they cut his crumpled car apart to pry her out of the wreckage. Or the look of his mother in the waiting room and what his sister had looked like in the hospital bed.
It’s actually a sad thing. Really sad. Although compassionately trying on his shoes doesn't make what he did any less wrong, it is something to consider in hindsight.
Maybe he truly did have PTSD and those tales were the only way he could feel "justified" in expressing what he felt. After all, catastrophic trauma full of blood and body parts is often touted as the only excusable reason for someone--especially a male someone--to be allowed to "whine." In other words, to talk about what's hurt them, show depression or anxiety, or heaven forbid, cry. Sometimes it's not even "allowed" after warfare.
More bullshit manwiches to be choked down, this time by the men themselves.
Or I don't know, maybe Graham was just doing that pathological mirroring thing in response to my PTSD. In those days, nobody could have missed it if they'd spent a few nights with me. That's equally sad--to consider someone who has such a deficit of their own personality that all they can do is hold up a mirror to everyone around them so other people will gravitate toward the illusion of familiarity and mutual understanding.
It's staggering to think about. So much creativity and imagination used to cover up what was most likely a child subjected to horrific pain. So much time and energy spent in maintaining the fiction, when it could have been spent developing something real and meaningful with me. But Graham couldn’t dare do that.
He’d concocted all these elaborate reasons why we couldn’t talk about these things in front of his family--because him going into the military and his “sister’s near-death” had “almost done his mom in.” I mean, she was such a "fragile, unstable, volatile so-and-so" that she “couldn’t handle” the merest mention of these things so…
So I didn’t, out of concern for his supposedly tenuous situation with all the “drama queens” of his family. Maybe they truly were that unstable and volatile. I wouldn’t have known. I only briefly met his mother one afternoon and I never met his sister.
When I learned the truth about this spectacle of lies, it nearly vaporized my brains straight out of my skull. But later, in the hush of the aftermath, everything finally clicked into place.
Subtle tics in his energy and expressions that I’d always brushed off as me being “my paranoid self.” Odd things I could never explain and that, when I questioned him about it, we would either wind up in such a convoluted, confusing, exhausting conversation that I couldn’t remember my original point, or we’d wind up fighting. Which was always somehow my fault. (1)
That didn't happen. And if it did, it wasn't that bad. And if it was, that's not a big deal. And if it is, that's not my fault. And if it was, I didn't mean it. And if I did, you deserved it.
~The Narcissist’s Prayer, author unknown
Of course it must have been my fault. I’m such a drama queen myself, aren't I? I’m an actress and a Fire Sign, remember? And I’m such an unreasonable nag. I mean, come on. Silverfish and squirming, roly-polies are appropriate pets, aren’t they? He certainly fed them well with those dirty dishes underneath his everything covering the floor.
MY dishes on MY floor.
Know why I put up with that for so long?
Because I was well trained into being “nice” and proving how “ride or die” I was. How compassionate and understanding. How nurturing and helpful. The quintessential “quality woman” to combat my slut-belly-dancer, fighter-whore reputation. (1, 3)
But underlying all that, it was mostly because I hated myself. (4) I subconsciously hated all the things I couldn’t remember about my own traumatic history. I all-too-consciously hated the way I had moused out in the events I could remember. I hated my “sinful weakness” that made me crave sex when I wasn’t married. Then I gained a new festering sore--I hated that I had messed up the conscientious order of how you end a relationship maturely and compassionately. You know, a relationship with someone you say you love?
When Kyle and I broke up, I knew that I despised what I had done to him. What I did not know as I flagellated myself with the flogger of Graham was how deep my self-hatred actually ran.
I hated every answering machine message I’d ever recorded. I loathed every word I’d ever regurgitated with my "loudmouth bitch" voice; more so, I reviled the ones I’d never had the guts to speak. I hated my feelings and I hated my thoughts and I hated everything inside me that rots. I hated my laughter and despised my tears. I’d been wishing for something to off me for years. I hated everything that had gotten me attacked; I especially hated that I’d never fought back. I hated my eyes, my vagina, dat ass. I loved and I loathed that I was always so crass. I hated my sewer-mouth and hated how jumpy I would get every time the road got a bit bumpy. I hated my phobias, paranoias and fears. I hated motherfuckers who had stalked me for years.
Over all that, I slathered on a smile.
Painted on a fresh coat each spring.
Shoved some more shit into the closet and hoped nobody would ever open it. Kinda looked like my bedroom after Graham moved in. So Within; so Without. The last thing I would do was open that door myself, except to crack it a wee bit and shove more shit in. Eventually, all that putridness rotted out the floor. The whole thing crashed into the basement with all the other crap I’d buried down there. That was convenient. That way, all I had to do was eke open the door and throw new garbage in. Eeeeeeeeeee…down the hole.
Made it easier to let the abuse keep coming. I mean, jeez, I had this awesome storage facility in my supercomputer of a brain. I could split my mind a half-dozen ways--and I had. I’d buried one piece in the back yard of forgetting while shoving another into the basement of no-see-em. I spouted poetry in Spanish, tromped around in my new armor while batting my belly dancer eyes and shimmying in a lamalar apron with a sword on my head, all while maintaining my hostess-with-the-mostess smile that spackled on the illusion that everything was great.
(I had built this illusion so I could put on the face of “fine” with other people, but mostly I’d built it for myself. Because if I didn’t let myself look at the crap I’d buried, then I wouldn’t have to do anything about it.)
All those performing monkey masks had given me yet another reason to hate what I saw in the mirror. So I hung lovely blackout curtains over those truth-divulging assholes. Then I undermined and blew up one of the only loving relationships I’d ever had, instead of conscientiously, maturely ending it. This gave me the perfect excuse to crucify myself.
“Well, you’re the piece of shit who ruined things with the best man who has ever loved you. You cheated on him with Stan, so stay with him.”
And I did.
Until I found somebody who would treat me even worse.
Woe and alas for my inner sadist, I had discovered belly dancing. Day after day, I drew circles and infinities with my pelvis--my festering pit of trauma and shame. I drew circles with the cage I’d built around my heart, and I ran infinities up and down my doormat-damsel spine.
Those shapes are energetic Alchemy. They polish off burrs. They align the disjointed. They get everything flowing through the places where the energy got stuck.
After two years of obsessively drawing those shapes with my body, I discovered the SCA--and the SCA had belly dancers. As I drew the signs of Eternal Life out there in the elements with my bare feet on the ground and the breezes teasing my hair…as I sent infinities rippling through my nervous system while star-gazing and earth-bathing… as my hands curled circles and drew strange shapes nobody had ever taught me except the firelight and the wind…I was healing myself and I didn’t even realize it.
At the same time, I was building better and better armor. I had built a shield with my own hands, side-by-side with my grandfather in his basement workshop. I was building weapons of varied shape, range, and style, and I was learning how to use them.
Every week at fighter practice and during all those hours when Graham left me alone in the apartment I shared with him, I practiced defending myself from attack. I practiced the movements of discernment, deflection, redirection. I practiced stuffing someone’s assault back down their throat so it couldn’t harm me. I practiced unpredictability. I learned about seeing someone’s intent to do me harm when it was nothing but a seed sprouting behind their eyes, and I learned how not to let that go unanswered. I learned about trusting myself--to know that I was seeing their ill intention accurately, no matter how many people tried to tell me I was being paranoid. I learned how to flow when someone was trying to fake me out before a genuine attack.
Where the body goes, the mind will follow.
And vs. versa.
Because I was also imagining, envisioning, and inventing a Gladiatrix. Then I started writing her into life. In the Fantasy genre, we talk about the type of magic that is made by writing things down. I can attest to it: that magic is real. It was something else I had no idea that I was studying.
So on the day when I learned the truth about my deadbeat, video game addict, pathological liar boyfriend, I didn’t brush it off for once. I didn’t dismiss the screaming Klaxons the way I had silenced, boxed up, and buried all of Graham’s red flags. When I came home to that chronically empty apartment, I tore through the disaster area that sprawled across half of my bedroom. I became a scouring, decluttering, crap-whirling food processor armed with lemon-scented Lysol.
I boxed and bagged every item that was his and piled it up by the front door. After that, the rest of the apartment needed no work, because I’d already mutinied and cleaned it the way I liked it. Every time he’d dropped something, I had flung it on top of his ever-growing pile. That made it simple to grab and stuff, grab and stuff, grab and stuff until done.
Afterwards, I sprinkled lavender carpet-fresh and ran the vacuum simply because I liked the scent. Then I lit the candles. I burned sandalwood incense. I made myself a luscious dinner.
Not the lemon-pepper chicken usually reserved for a romantic two-some meal. That would come three days later, just for me and me, followed by a bath with the special rose-shaped floaty candles and the lavender epsom salts. Drawing and decorating pamper-baths was a familiar ritual to me. I'd just never done it for myself before.
But on the night I booted Graham, I needed comfort food: my mom’s recipe for homemade macaroni-and-cheese with more cheese in the cut-up chunks of cheesy-wurst. (We're pretty cheesy around here.) That was a romantic two-some meal--just me and the Tigress. Afterwards, she and I licked our claws clean as we lay in wait.
Because amidst all those purging hurricane maneuvers, I had also stormed into my closet. No. Not the one from which I grabbed all of Graham’s clothes and bagged them, leaving only my own. Not the one that held bathroom towels and cleaning supplies.
I mean that oversized walk-in closet with the rotted-out floor. I jumped down with a parachute and rifled through the skeletons and wreckage until I found all the red flags with Graham’s name on them. Upon emerging, I laid every one of those suckers out on the table so I could see them in entirety and be left with no doubt.
I wasn’t paranoid. I wasn’t being a drama queen about the way he treated me. I wasn’t too sensitive or unreasonably naggy, and I certainly wasn’t a being a selfish bitch.
But I was about to become one.
Abusers hurl that word all the time to guilt and coerce you back into line. So do people who are trying to manipulate things out of you. “You’re so selfish,” they sneer. But self-care, motivated by self-value and self-love are the foundational layer of self-defense.
Self-care is one of the greatest acts of societal responsibility one can ever accomplish. It is a supreme act of generosity and love unto the world to clean up your own shit.
In that moment while I was purging a bunch of mine, the Tigress’ fangs grew long and her claws burst forth from my fingers and toes. My spine bowed up and it bristled with hackles. A myriad serpents sprang from my head and they were all reared up and hissing. I dare say that if Graham had come home and walked into my lair while I was cleaning it, if I had deigned to turn my full gaze upon him, I might have earned myself a stone statue where my ex had once stood.
But lucky him, he didn’t. So I made myself fat and happy with gooey dinner, and relished in washing my own dishes.
I also watered the tiny flowering plant I had rescued from the wreckage while I was downstairs hunting for red flags. In one corner where the concrete had cracked, its upheaval had laid bare the raw dirt of my true foundation--the fertile earth made from the love and nurturing I had received when I was young and from those who were my genuine friends.
Black-belt visionary artist Kyle Kane had planted a seed in that dirt with his two-and-a-half years of kindness, fierce encouragement, and especially with his forgiveness. It had sprouted in the darkness down there. So when I ran across that plant, tenaciously growing like a glorious, night-blooming infiltrator, I brought it upstairs and put it next to the window that didn’t get direct sunlight, only the perfect amount of glow each day. That plant was a prickly little thing. I liked it. It suited me, so I watered and fertilized it. I sang to it and welcomed it.
Then I snagged one of Graham’s beers--yes. Me. I drank a beer because I needed to sink in my chops and wrap my long, coily tongue around all that bitter. By the time Graham walked through my door, I was a luxuriant, purring, flower-crooning monster. I could not be bothered to disintegrate him with a roaring, five-hour tirade. I had better things to do.
So I unceremoniously dumped his ass and booted him out of my apartment. I booted him out of my life as well, no matter how many times he tried to woo me back.
My holidays were blissfully stress-free. I went home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas where I curled up with my parents and lolled in the radiance of love and great food. I sang my prickly little cactus into sprouting ever more numerous blooms. I went to an SCA event in Chicago. You remember that tale, right? When an Irishman, a Viking, and a belly dancer walked into an pub. I went out on the town with my friends and, for the first time in my life, I discovered how much I adored being single.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
UP NEXT: Drawing those shapes with my hands that nobody had ever taught me. THE HUMAN HAND CAN ACTUALLY BLOOM: Mary Wigman & Expressionist Dance Part 4
OR: I wrote more about self-pampering and romantic meals just for me and me in WABI-SABI: THE BEAUTY OF IMPERFECTION - Learning To Love That Person In the Mirror
OR: Did you miss my post about salvaging a flowering cactus from death?
OR: If I've got a whole slew of posts about learning THE ARTS OF SELF-DEFENSE
I am not the person to ask about these touchy topics. The people at the links in RED are.
A FEW LINKS - IN CASE YOU MISSED THEM BEFORE
1) Coercive Control, Boundaries & Psychological Abuse
Remember that online activity can be tracked, so make sure you are in a safe place to click on these links before you do:
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) TTY 1-800 - 787-3224
2) Neurodivergence, Trauma & Abuse
--What Autistic Women Want You to Know - including why there is a greater risk for falling prey to abusers and predators. (In the past few years, it’s also understood that this manifestation that differs from the stereotypical “Rainman” or “Sheldon” archetype is not merely limited to females.)
--Unsafe, Unheard, Misunderstood - A number of lesser known and lesser understood atypical types of trauma experienced by neurodivergent people. These constant stressors encourage masking, people pleasing, the dismissal of instincts and one’s own needs, and not standing or speaking up for one’s self.
3) The Pathological Predator’s Preferred Prey Personalities
(Can I SQUEEZE any more Ps in there?)
--The profile of the conscienceless predator’s preferred prey - Sandra L. Brown M.A and the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction
4) The Traumatized Mindset & C-PTSD
—Complex PTSD - how prolonged and repeated childhood trauma rewires the nervous system and manifests in personality, self-esteem, and behaviors
—One of the best books I have ever read in my life: The Body Keeps the Score - Brain, Mind & Body in the Healing of Trauma
—Don't want to read the book? Here's the basic premise of what trauma does to the body and why talking about it, even in therapy, so often doesn't solve the problems: Short Version. Or Long Version by the author himself
—A few of the myriad healing techniques discussed in the book: EMDR, Yoga, Mindfulness & Support Network. These are only a few the book covers.
**It should be noted that I’ve never dated a pathological liar named Graham. That makes this tale a work of fiction.
Based on the pieces of my life that aren’t.