Monday, April 20, 2015

I Didn't Even See It Coming



Two days after a catastrophic break-up with my boyfriend of two years, I wandered into a pet store looking to purchase a larger cage for the bunny my now ex-boyfriend had bought me for my birthday.

I asked to speak with the manager, telling the store employee that I was in need of a larger cage and that I expected them to deduct the price of the smaller cage I had already purchased, a cage that I had been talked into buying only a month before, a cage that the employee should have known would be way too small.

The manager came out, I argued my case, he offered me a job, and then I asked him out on a date.

It was the chance meeting of a lifetime, the chance meeting that changed my lifetime.

It was an explosive combination of a girl with daddy issues and a guy with an affinity for underage girls.

It was the night I met my ex.

On our first date he asked if our age difference bothered me, if I was ok with the fact that when I had been in fifth grade, he was already in his second year of college. He wanted to know if I was ok that now, being barely out of high school, he had been living in his own apartment for 8 years.

I thought about what he said, but only momentarily because he was quick to tell me how much he admired me. To tell me that he knew I had lived so much in my short lifetime that I had the maturity it took to be with someone nearly a decade older than myself.

He told me that he knew I was mature enough to handle all of this. 

I, being too young to see what was going on, felt very "adult-like" under the praises he was bestowing upon me. I thought that maybe for the first time, someone really saw me.



I look back now and realize I was being groomed.

I am absolutely disgusted at some of the things that took place in our early relationship, things that I let him talk me into, things that by some standards would be considered illegal. I wish I could go back and shake a reality check into young Eden, but she probably wouldn't have listened to current Eden anyway because she certainly wasn't listening to anyone else.

My story is so cliche that it makes me feel like an idiot.

How could I not have seen what was going on? How could I have been so stupid?

The shame and guilt that I carried around from that has been something that took me a very long time to come to terms with.

Was this my fault? I started this, this was my idea, and I made the first move. I didn't just walk into this mess, I opened the door and invited it in.


I simply had no idea what was going on back then because I was practically still a child. I grew up in child abuse and I continued right along in it, and in many ways I continued right along in it.

And that is really hard to even think about.

I grew up in child abuse, started a relationship consisting of near-child abuse and married into domestic abuse, I didn't just age, I transitioned.

And not only did I not realize it, no one around me realized it either.

I think people are under the impression that abusers, whether child or domestic, are big, scary, and that you can spot them from a million miles away. People tend to naturally assume that they would be able to pick up on an abuser's personality traits, recognize them for who they really are, and see the demons they harbor within.

But you can't, people don't, and that's evidenced by all the victims that go unnoticed. You see it when an abuse story crosses the news headlines and they interview people who personally knew the abuser and they consistently say things to the effect of "we never knew, we had no idea. He always seemed like such a great guy, a little strange maybe, but harmless!" 

I saw it in the faces of my friends who were nothing short of astounded when my true life came to light.

I'm also reminded of it every time I hear Mr. Attorney Man talk about my ex, "he seems so wimpy and whiny. He doesn't even seem scary."

And he is right.

To the outside my ex isn't some big scary monster. He seems timid, non-threatening, weird at most, and not only is that why I didn't immediately recognize his danger, but it's also why no one else ever noticed how much trouble I was in.

Abusers know that if you sense their danger then you will see them for who they really are. They are masters of disguise because it is imperative to their survival.


Domestic abuse and child abuse continue year after year because of the simple fact that abusers blend in. They aren't always the big scary monsters that are depicted on TV; the leering, brooding, person who walks around threatening people. Most of the time they are the outcasts; the weird dude at the party, the strange one at work, the person regarded as socially inept, and yet to their victims, they are the keepers of their lives and the creator of their nightmares.

I didn't even see it coming.

I look at him now and I see what everyone else sees, but I also see so much more, so much that no one else is capable of seeing.

And that's the way it works with abusers, that's how they stay alive.

They blend in to protect themselves, they hide away to protect their secrets.

I think the most insulting thing that you can say to an abuse survivor is that their abuser doesn't seem scary.

To me, that's worse than asking why I didn't just leave, because when you ask why I didn't leave, I know you just don't understand, but when you tell me that he isn't scary, it makes me doubt myself.

To me he is scary because I know what he is capable of. I know what he did to me. I spent a decade of my life fighting for my life while feeling nothing but weak, ashamed, and worthless. I tried my damnedest to get out. I know how hard I fought, and how many times I lost. I'm embarrassed that it went on for so long and I'm embarrassed that I couldn't get out. I'm ashamed that I couldn't protect myself and I'm tormented wondering if maybe I should have fought harder.


When you tell me that he isn't even scary, it takes every fear that I have and places it right before my face.

It raises the single question that every abuse survivor on this entire planet has struggled with:

"Is something wrong with me?"

"If he isn't scary, if he isn't threatening, am I just weak? Could I have stopped this? Was I just too stupid to figure out how to get out?"

It diminishes the fight, it reduces our struggle.

It makes me feel just as stupid, weak, and worthless as he made me feel, because if he isn't threatening, then my struggle wasn't real, because struggles are battles fought against hardships, and if he isn't a threat, then I wasn't in trouble.

If it wasn't a nightmare, then maybe it didn't really happen.

I say this in no way to shame Mr. Attorney Man or anyone who has ever told a survivor that their abuser isn't scary, they really just don't know, but what they don't know, it hurts us.

I hate introducing people to my parents and the reason that I hate it so much is probably one that you would never have guessed.

I hate introducing people to my parents, because people always like them.

I've gone through it time and time again, where a person knows that I have an abusive past and they finally meet my parents, and then they turn around and say something to the effect of "Huh. I guess I was expecting worse. They actually seem really nice."

"They seem really nice."

OH I'M SURE THEY DO. What with my mom's super-fake-polite-voice that sounds nothing like her real voice, and you all know what I'm talking about when I say "the phone voice." The voice you get that's like 3 times higher than your normal pitch, much more professional, and sounds nothing like the person that you really are. She uses that voice and then makes it slower and simply dripping with sweet politeness.

It's a voice that puts most people at ease and the voice that makes me want to leap across a table and rip her damn fucking face off.

Gosh I hate that voice.

It makes me even angrier than my dad's super-fake-laugh-voice. The voice where he lowers his normal voice about an octave and then adds a ridiculously forced chuckle to the end of every sentence. Now everyone that has ever met my father agrees that he comes off a little fake, but my mother, oh she fools people alright.

I recently came across some old records that I swiped from my parents house some years back. Folders and files that hadn't seen the light of day in a decade or two fell out onto my feet as I was going through my file box a few weeks ago. The kids were at daycare so I took the opportunity to sit down in the hallway and open the file.

I really should have prepared myself more for what I would find because the information that was scattered across the pages of school evaluations, mandatory pediatric counseling notes, medical files, and more, contained memories of my childhood that raised more questions than answers.

"Eden is a shy, timid, overly thin child. When her teacher asked why she doesn't eat her lunch, she told her teacher that she believes her mother is poisoning her sandwiches."
- School psychologist

"Eden (age 14) is being admitted for a psychiatric hold. Reason she gives for attempting suicide is 'I will do whatever it takes to get out of my house.' She presents with no obvious psychological disturbances and with the exception of her suicide attempt and a history of self-harm, no psychiatric disorders appear to be present. Prescribed treatment will be medication, refer to psychiatrist notes."
-Hospital record

"Eden appears to be a bright, friendly, 15 yr old who informed some members of her church that her parents were being abusive. Her youth group leader took her meet with a church counselor. Eden didn't say anything during the entire session with the exception of pleading to be removed from the home. When Eden was informed that the goal of the meeting was to help her come up with ways to get along better with her parents, she ran from the meeting and her youth group leader had to chase her down and physically carry her back to the car. We were informed that it took two people to keep her in the car on the drive back to her parent's home. Parents state that she is naturally defiant and that they have been working with her on that issue."
-Counselor Note

You guys, ugh. I just... no words. "We don't see anything overtly wrong with her, but since she hates her parents enough to try and kill herself, we should probably medicate her."

The signs were ALL THERE and yet no one saw them. They were all there, buried under my mom's super-fake-extra-polite-drippy-sweet-phone-voice, the one who spoke for me in most situations. The voice that was backed up by my father's super-fake-laugh, taking everything that was going on in stride. Voices that were never raised, always calm, and alerted no one to anything but the light heartedness of the situation, of an abuse that couldn't possibly be real,

Because that's how abusers survive. They exclude positive qualities so that no one can see past them to all the monsters they harbor within.

It's exactly why no one ever suspects the abuser next door, the celebrity that beats his wife, the mother that hurts her child.

It's exactly why many people are so confused when they meet a "known" abuser, because it wasn't who they were expecting.

It's exactly why us victims start to question what really happened. Because if other people don't see it, did it really happen? Is there just something wrong with me?

What is wrong with me?

I grew up in a world that no one knew of, I invited in a trouble that no one recognized, and I stayed for the next decade because no one noticed me hiding behind the person that no one ever really saw.

So is my abuser scary?

No.

Not unless you know him.

The scariest things are not the things we see, but rather the things that are left unseen. Like the heart attack that silently sneaks up and then squeezes the life out of its victim, an abusers can go unnoticed until the moment they take a life.

The nightmares come when you close your eyes, because the real threats are the ones we can't see.

So is an abuser always scary?

No.

Not unless you know what they are hiding.



*************************************

If You Liked This, Check Out These!

"Because No One Ever Told Me"

"I'm Not What You Were Expecting."

"To The Woman Who Isn't Yet Free"


Photo Credits
Abstract Face
Do Not Open Door
Abuse
Love me
Man
Looking Over Shoulder (cropped)

27 comments:

  1. Great post, Eden. It's absolutely true that not only do abusers groom their victims, but they groom those AROUND their victim, those around themselves, and their local society. Which makes it much more likely that victims won't be believed. In fact, I heard the most terrifying thing a few weeks ago: "An abuser is doing everything right if s/he puts themselves in a position where victims come to them." Michael Jackson, anyone?

    *hugs* Don't doubt yourself, Eden. You did everything you had the knowledge and resources to do. And, let's face it--you survived. You're still here, making it. That's the biggest testament of all.

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    1. Very good point about them grooming the people around them -so true! That quote is absolutely terrifying becuase it's dead on. ((shudder))

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  2. It makes me so sad to think about little Eden too scared to eat her lunch. A time when your mommy should be your all encompassing protector and you were scared of yours. What a lonely and terrifying place to be in for a child. :(

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  3. Have to say, I couldn't read this one all in one. It was like the further I read, the more I thought I was reading about my own childhood. I recently took some files from my house, from doctors my mother was trying to get to "help" me. I mentioned that I was being abused and neglected, did they listen? No, because she clearly is here because she cares about me! She's not trying to cheat the government or anything.

    I remember thinking it was going to get better when my school, after much frustration with my mother, called social services. On the last day the social worker came in (my parents convinced me and my sister to lie and that the school had been out to get us) I'll never forget what I heard her say. "You should see the houses I come into. Your family is just not like this." It was the most invalidating thing I could have heard. My dad hit me and doesn't get mandatory counseling, or AA, or whatever you do to fathers who hit their kids? And my mom thought she was going to get off, like she was a victim of a violent husband. Hell, she came to life when my dad hit me because she could come in and save me and look like the good parent!

    At least once a day I ask something along the lines of "Why did she do this?" Can you do this WITHOUT being abusive? The truth is, you can't. All they want is control - they're mentally five years old in that way. I was never familiar with the concept of the "abuser" until this blog, honestly - to me, abuse was just a thing that happened. Even to this day my mother will tell people I abuse her, wanting people to assume she's powerless in the situation. I don't know who believes her - but to me, it feels like everyone does.

    So glad you posted this, though. Cause I just wrote letters to my extended family and now that I read this, I think I'm finally ready to mail them out... :)

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    1. *Letters explaining the past to my extended family, that is. I often wonder what they know and what they don't...

      Also... that "phone voice", UGH my mom does that too! I feel like it's mostly because every emotion is exaggerated with her that she basically just fakes it. She even has a variation which we call the "phone sex operator" voice... you can use your imagination there.

      Okay now I realize, the more I write about this woman the less I ever want to speak to her again...

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    2. I feel like I keep saying this on comments but it's so true, I'm sorry you had to go through that!! Man, I wish I could go back and like fix everyone's childhoods and make them all happy, but obviously I can't do that. So... I'm sending you a big hug, know that you aren't alone in your past.

      *hugs*

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  4. My abuser (current) is not even considered 'weird'. He's a 'genuine good guy with a big heart that wants to help people out'. It took me 6 years of abuse for me to see that this was abuse and that he was faking it. It took his best friend 3 years of witnessing the abuse and trying to help stop it before he also realized. Every single person around us thinks he's a good guy, even our families. Many people, his friends, our neighbors, think that I'm the socially inept, angry, bitch from hell.
    Actually, I'm the nice one that goes out of my way to help others and encourages him to do the same. I'm the quiet but friendly, nice, gentle one. He's the one that continually abuses me and manipulates everyone, even his best friend.

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    1. He also doesn't have a phone voice. He is an awesome, super great, good guy with a big heart. Until he snaps. When you really really step back from him, you can easily see the manipulation, but so many people are engrossed by him, they can't step back and see it.

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    2. You're totally right, I should have included the "charming" abuser in there as well, not just the weird ones. My parents were definitely the charmer type. I'm sorry you are going through that, it's a TOUGH place to be in when everyone thinks the abuser is great and you wish so hard that they could see the truth. How are you doing right now? Please don't hesitate to reach out or email me if you need anything, I'm sad that it's still going on for you :(

      *hugs*

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  5. Abusers are just like other predators, hiding their real selves in order to keep doing what they do - reading this all I kept thinking about were serial killers like Ted Bundy, who was purportedly quite personable and charming, except, of course, to the women he killed. Add to this people's tendency to want to bury their heads in the sand to avoid having to do something about all the ugliness that is abuse ("they seem really nice") and you have a lethal combination.

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    1. Great example!! It's terrifying really :(

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  6. *hugs*

    I lost count the number of times growing up I heard, "Isn't your mother just the best?" and "How lucky you are to have such a wonderful mother!" and "Your mother has the strength of the gods. She's amazing!" and, well, you get the idea.

    I went to school without lunch on multiple occasions in elementary school and when I told my teachers "It's because my mother said I was bad and wasn't allowed to eat lunch", nothing was ever done. My father got drunk and one time burned me three times with his cigarette when I was 11. I told my guidance counselor and she just said, "Oh, honey. I've met your father. He would never do that. I'm sure it was just an accident." I tried for a minute to argue with her, but it got me nowhere so I just stopped talking. Eventually just nodded and said that she was right. He must have accidentally burned me three times in a five-second period.

    It's amazing how much abusers can seem normal and wonderful to the world outside.

    *hugs*

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    1. I just realized the double hugs I posted.

      Well, here's to double hugs!

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    2. Glad to know I wasn't the only one with "great parents!!" Ugh.

      I'm sorry your parents did that to you, you didn't deserve that :(

      *double hugs!*

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  7. Abusers are predatory in nature. They see those who are vulnerable and lock on to their target. To such vulnerable people, they are terrifying monsters but to those who aren't, those abusers just look like "some nice old man" or some skinny, whiny little bitch. IMO in such cases, both observations are true: someone can be a weak pussy of a man whilst simultaneously being a tyrannical demon. They aren't mutually exclusive, and how you perceive such people is based on your experience (eg it's easy to say someone isn't scary when they haven't beaten or tortured you).

    It's basically all about perspective.

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  8. The phone voice!! Oh my gosh I know exactly what you mean, my mother did it too, and I thought she was the only one...I'm usually not happy about "not being alone" (because it means so many others have suffered!), but here I am. I think not being alone refers to God, too. Anyway, I also wanted to say that abusers are losers. They abuse and seek out the vulnerable to exert power over because they have no REAL power themselves. They are weak and wimpy and have malignant personalities or need the ego trip so they seek out weaker people to bully. Schoolyard dynamics apply well here. Yes, abusers are terrifying and horrible, and yes, they are also powerless, ineffectual losers!

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    1. I HATE THE PHONE VOICE!!!

      I agree, abuse is definitely a power trip they use to self-medicate their own insecurities.

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  9. Mercifully I don't have a story like the ones above, but I can relate to the 'phone voice' somewhat. In my old job there was this horrible woman, who always sounded so nice on the phone, when it suited her. If our boss called she would be so nice and friendly, then she'd hang up and go back to ignoring me or talking to me like I was beneath contempt. I was thankful that I only had to see her at work and that she wasn't a bigger part of my life.

    It makes me so angry to read the above comments about people who tried to tell and weren't believed. Yet children from poor families get taken into care all the time, because the authorities are happy to think the worst of them.

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    1. Ugh that would drive me crazy having to actually work and be productive around someone like that!!

      It makes me sad too, and good point about how the poor children are taken bc we are happy to think the worst of the parents. That is REALLY sad :(

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  10. My dad got away with so much because he was a doctor. Unlike my mom, my dad had trouble hiding the fact that he was an asshole. But people just excused it because "not everybody has that good 'bedside manner'". They looked the other way when I was made to walk around on a broken foot for two weeks. Nobody could hide the cast they eventually put on my foot when I was finally taken to the doctor, but nobody questioned it either that it was 2 weeks after my injury. Nobody wondered why I was so unable to accept praise that I had to be dragged out of the bathroom at an awards ceremony. Nobody gave a crap. In fact I still feel like I'm completely invisible and nobody can see anything that I do.

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    1. Aw :( You are NOT invisible, you just haven't yet come across people who can see past their own face. That's on them, it's NOT on you. You are special and important and people WILL see that, when you meet people who are worthy of it.

      *hugs*

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  11. The hardest part, for me, is that when my abuser was alive, he himself admitted the abuse, admitted that we couldn't have gotten along at all while I was younger, and agreed with me that one (or both) of us would have died before I was 18. Now that he's gone, all of those admissions have been forgotten, and I'm frequently the a$$hole for remembering how tortured I was as a kid. It's gotten to the point that I walk away most of the time when he is inevitably brought up at gatherings and holidays.

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    1. That absolutely sucks :( People have a way of only remember the things that they miss about someone and that is not fair to you :(

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  12. Yup, even minor abuse like breaking down someone's self esteem, creating guilt issues, and sending them into the arms of ANYONE who shows them affection is grooming whether the "abuser" knows they are doing it or not. That affects so very, very many of us and rarely if ever is recognized or acknowledged because being "tough" isn't abuse. And people wonder why women have self esteem issues. No one would EVER guess how many times I question myself and my worth everyday.

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