Low self-esteem and abuse
Sometimes, you're so used to being abused by yourself - you can't tell you're being abused by the person you love.
At first you're afraid of being alone. Maybe you came from a home that felt more like a battleground; where you were equal measures 'spoil of battle' and 'prisoner of war'. Maybe you heard one too many backhanded compliments as you became a woman.
"...so beautiful under all that makeup..."
"...you'll scare the boys off wearing all that black..."
"...don't you think you should wear something a bit more... a bit less... a bit different..."
You come to learn that the decisions you make for yourself aren't good decisons. Seemingly tiny, insignificant choices fill you with anxiety. Should I go out, what should I wear, when should I go to bed. Every decision you make tempered by the niggling feeling in your chest that it's somehow wrong.
You learn to bury the fear under a mask of confidence. You play 'Fake it 'till you Make it' but never seem to reach the end of the game. You convince everyone but yourself that you know what you're doing. And you succeed at the only thing you didn't want to succeed at.
You yearn for someone to see past the over-the-top laugh and life-of-the-party exterior. You need for someone to see the fear, or you're afraid you'll be stuck in this superhero costume forever.
You try to open up to friends, to family, to people you met in the smoking area of a club that smells like and sweat. They reassure you that you are loved and wanted and kind and intelligent, that you are a personified list of positive affirmations. But how could they know? After all, they don't know you. You know you better than anyone ever has and you hate yourself, no one else's opinion matters more that the voice in your head that tells you you're not good enough.
Then He happens. A friend introduced you or you met on the internet or you sat next to him on a bench outside of a bar and he offered to light your social cigarette.
He looks at you like you're the end of his world, a beautiful disaster. You don't know why but you want to believe the way you take his breath away. When he says that you're not like other girls, he doesn't ask you. He tells you. And you accept your newfound status as 'special' like a warm jacket placed over your shoulders on a winter evening.
Your friends don't like him, they say he's too intense. They just don't know him like you do. Your mum is worried you're moving too quickly, but she won't question your ability to make your own choices. You're a woman, you're her daughter. You seem like you know what you're doing.
He is the first thing you've ever been sure of.
He isn't perfect. He has a temper, he shouts at people in car parks for driving too slowly and you worry when you're in public incase someone looks at him wrong. But he makes you feel safe. He's in control, and you're with him so you're in control.
And you don't have to make decisions anymore! Those tiny, inconsequential decisons that took up so much of your energy become fewer and farther between.
"You seem tired. Don't go out tonight, let me run you a nice relaxing bath."
"You know I think you're beautiful in everything but that dress is too short. Why don't you try this instead?"
"Right, put your phone down. You're going to be knackered in the morning if you don't get some sleep."
He cares about you so much, more than you've ever cared about yourself. So you choose not to choose anymore, you let him be your navigator through the maze of being human.
There's a gig coming up, or a girls night out, or a family meal. You know it's going to make you anxious but you know you'll regret not going. For once, you make the decision.
He doesn't like that.
You didn't give him enough notice, he had plans for you that night.
"Don't worry, just go. You clearly care more about them than me."
You panic. How could you have been so stupid. He's clearly hurting. He does so much for you and you can't even be there for him when he needs you.
The gig happens, the girls night out happens, the family meal happens. You aren't there. He wraps his arm around you whilst you watch TV, and the silent battle between what you want and what he wants for you comes to an anticlimactic conclusion. He is your safety, and you won't give that up for anything.
One day whilst he's screaming at you that your friends have all had enough of your shit, how if he didn't love you so much he'd be gone too, how he's the only good thing in your life, the police knock on the door.
He answers. You're confused but polite. He's irritated. One officer asks if he can speak to you in the kitchen. As you walk away He glances at your wrist, the bruises from a particularly heated argument a few weeks ago have turned yellowish and are indistinguishable as a handprint now. You grab your rolled up sleeve anyway, swiftly sliding it down your arm as you turn to guide the officer into the next room. You don't want them to think the wrong thing. It briefly crosses your mind that the 'wrong thing' you don't want them to think is exactly what happened, but you shoo this from you mind as quickly as it appeared.
The officer shuts the kitchen door. He is tall, and intimidating, with a body camera and a stab vest and a frown that is meant to convey concern but only reads as 'angry' in your eyes.
As the officer asks you questions, you answer on autopilot.
"No, of course he hasn't hurt me."
"It was a stupid argument, it's my fault really I was winding him up on purpose."
"No the hole in the wall is from an accident, I fell with the hoover in my hand a few weeks back. I'm so clumsy!"
All the whilst your inner voice curses you.
You wish you could go back to 4 hours ago when you first disagreed with Him. You wish you could take it back. You wish you could just stop being so rude, so disrespectful. It's your fault the police are here, if you'd just fucking listen for once none of this would be happening!
As they leave they tell you he can't stay tonight, he has to go. You feel sick at the thought of being without him right now when you feel more vulnerable, most scared. He grabs his coat, and doesn't look at you as he shuts the front door. You sob on the kitchen floor, grab your phone and text him an apology. He blocks your number, your WhatsApp, your social media. You've never been so desperate to feel his arms around you. No one else will make you feel OK. If he doesn't want you, you don't want you. You wonder how many tablets it would take to end it all.
At 1am, you hear his key turn in the front door. From his heavy breathing and the sounds of him fumbling to get his shoes off, you know he's drunk. As he climbs the stairs, leaning his shoulder on the wall to keep him from falling, you feel your heart rate rise. There are only two ways this could go. You try to determine if his footsteps seem angry. He didn't call out to you to tell you he was home, does that mean he was trying to sneak in? Will he be angry that you're still awake? Will he be angry if you pretend to be asleep? You sit frozen, back against the headboard, your heart beating so hard you're sure the neighbours will hear it.
He opens the door and you see the tears falling down his face. You fly out of bed, keeping pace with your racing heart. You wrap your arms around his neck as he falls to his knees infront of you. He begs you for forgiveness. He never meant to hurt you. He loves you so much. This is all his fault. He should leave and never come back. You'd be so much better off without him.
But you're trained for this. All these words dripping from his mouth, are words you've heard before. Sometimes from him, sometimes from the voice inside you that you've silenced a hundred times. You've perfected the art of manipulating that voice into a cage, suffocating it with excuses and 'next-times'.
And now, as you have done so many times before, you reassure him. It is not His fault. You would be nothing without Him. You are so sorry for hurting Him. You'll do better. It feels like your decision, it feels cathartic and powerful and hopeful.
So much so that you don't notice yourself weep from inside your cage.
Sometimes you think about what it would be like to have a 'normal' relationship. One where the police don't get called, where you don't feel emotionally exhausted every day, where you smile because you're happy and not because you think you should. But you're not a normal person, you don't deserve any of that. You're not good a being a person, so of course you're not good at being a partner. You tell yourself you're just lucky to have someone who is willing to out up with you.
Yes, sometimes it gets heated - but he hardly ever hits you with the things he throws.
Yes, sometimes he says your worthless and deserve to die - but that's no worse than you say to yourself.
Yes, sometimes he leaves marks where he grabs you by the throat or on your wrists - but he's never once you.
As you sit in the doctors office one day waiting for an appointment to discuss increasing your antidepressants, you see a poster about domestic abuse on the wall opposite you. The girl on the poster has a dark, galaxy coloured bruise around her right eye and a single straight line of blood oozing from her top lip. Aside from these, her face is beautiful - no swelling or puffiness from crying, no bloodshot, sunken eyes from the sleepless nights. A single teardrop rests gently on her left cheek, the only visible indicator that she experiences any emotion at all.
And you think to :
"Why wouldn't you just leave?"