Writer’s Note: It took me some time to write this because writing this makes it real, and it means that I have to make a few significant changes. Still, I’m glad I wrote it as it’s been a healing and cathartic process.
After Brian Head, I checked into a hotel, a nice one as I didn’t want to be cheap. I also didn’t want to be caught off guard by weirdos. Anyway, I posted up in St. George. Though I was over Utah and ready to keep moving east, my mom was coming into town and St George is significantly cheaper than Vegas and only 90 minutes away. And, if I’m being honest, I do like St. George as the Virgin River runs through it and the trails are pretty sweet.
The hotel I was staying that offered breakfast and a nice one at that. So the next morning at 6, I went to the hall with my headphones and iPad and had breakfast. It was mainly uneventful until a man accidentally bumped into my table. He was sincerely apologetic, but internally I was so startled, I cleared my plate, walked back to my room and cried.
Up until that point, my sense of agency and autonomy surrounding traveling alone and being a woman had never been compromised. Barring the general safety tips, I never once questioned my ability to come and go as I pleased and I didn’t have a fear of men. Part of me was crying because of what happened, but another part was crying because I had experienced a frustrating reality.
Navigating the Feels
I experienced a wide range of emotions in the following week. Part of me questioned if I had done something to make him think his behavior was appropriate. I kept replaying the moments in my head, over and over, trying to figure out what I missed and how I got into that situation. I also was dealing with a bit of rage. Thinking about how he wrapped his body around mine and did not let me go (a hug this was not), made me want to drive back up that hill and castrate him. I hate to admit it, but this was my first experience with legitimately hating someone, at least for a moment. To have someone take a choice from you is a very infuriating thing. After stewing on the moment, I realized a very creepy thing, he targeted me from the beginning.
There’s a children’s book on strangers that my parents had me read when I was a child. One of the examples had to do with a man calling a kid by his name, telling him his mother had asked him to pick the child up. The kid then asks the man what his mother’s name was and he could not answer, thus prompting the child to run to another adult for help. Looking back on how Brett introduced himself, I realized I had been suckered into that conversation by his fake segue. Seriously, I truly was the only Black woman for at least 2 towns over, it was a bullshit statement.
Not the Only One
Recognizing that I had done nothing wrong, I decided to let it go, and chalk it up to a learning lesson. Sadly, I did talk to a few women (a colleague of mine and another hotel guest) who had had similar experiences in their lives. It was nice to be understood, but it made me sad to realize that this crap happens more than I knew. I’m fortunate that my experience was relatively harmless and only lasted a weekend. I will say that I now understand why people choose not to speak on these matters.
There are so many conflicted feelings, it’s hard to articulate what’s happening, and your response in the situation is never what you’d think it would be. Before this incident, if you would have asked me what I’d do if a man ever put his hands on me, I’d tell you I’d fight back. Now that it had happened, I 100% understand why women (and men) don’t fight back, laugh, or deny the event in its entirety. There’s so much red tape, and unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to identify or relate to. That and the first thing most people ask is if you were complicit in some kind of way. As time went on, I minimized the event, believing that I had overblown the situation. I was well on my way in getting past it until I received an email, which prompted me to write this series.
Trust Your Gut
As I was getting ready to go to Vegas, I received an email from Brett titled: Hello There. I’ll admit, my heart sunk when I saw it and I felt a sense of dread. Still, I opened it. It started out with him talking about everything he was up to. I got three sentences in and realized that it was a freaking novel. After he stopped talking about himself, he began recalling “compliments” I gave him. This dude was skewing words I had said to make it seem like I was infatuated with him! It took me 2 seconds to realize that I was right, he was nuts. At that moment, I felt relief. What happened was messed up, not my fault, and I was ready to keep going with my life. I decided to delete the email before reading its entire contents and blocked his email address. I wasn’t going to let some asshole take up space in my head any longer.
Healing Old Wounds
This is going to sound weird, but I’m grateful for the experience as it forced me to deal with another traumatic episode in my life. After the incident with my family member, which I talked about recently, a conversation with my dad helped me come to terms with a lot of crap that I had been bottling up and avoiding. Last week, my dad was sharing with me some revelations he had in therapy, regarding triggers and traumatic incidences he had blocked out as a kid. To hear him speak about it and be at peace was astounding. I was happy for him. It also got me to thinking about an incident that happened to me 7 years ago that I had blocked out. Unpacking that incident made me see how it had impacted me for the last 7 years.
When I was 23, I was living with a family member who I had (still have) a tumultuous relationship with. To everyone in my family, it didn’t seem like a big deal and most just chalked it up to me being overly-sensitive. Long story short, I had just started my first corporate job (which spear-headed this blog), and this person was pretty jealous. To be honest, whatever I did she disapproved of and made thinly veiled comments. I could never do anything right and when I’d ask for the rules or how to better get along, she always changed the goal post. She’d say lavender and then say she meant blue. This went on forever. And forget about her taking responsibility for anything she did. Even if she was caught redhanded, she would excuse her behavior.
So anyway, one day I had just gotten home from a long day. I had barely gotten through the door and she began to pick a fight. I held my cool and did not engage, which enraged her even further, so much so that she shoved me into the garage, locked me out of the house, and threw my belongings outside. This occurred in front of my 4 and 5-year-old niece and nephew. I was stunned, but didn’t have time to process emotionally. I had been in Vegas for only 3 months and I didn’t know anyone else. I had just started a new job and had already paid my share of the rent, so I didn’t have the extra funds to go anywhere. Fortunately, my old boss turned friend let me stay with her for a week until I got my apartment.
Cleaning Old Wounds
Because I was able to relocate so quickly, I just put the incident out of my head, failing to emotionally process what all had occurred. I had just started a demanding job, I still had to finish up 2 more classes, I was in a new environment, and I had a host of new responsibilities. Sorting out my feelings was just not a priority. The problem is, when you don’t deal with trauma, it deals with you. The reason why I’m sharing it now is that I’m finally understanding my experience with emotional abuse and traumatic occurrences and how they’ve impacted me over the last 7 years.
Only 6 weeks after that incident, I had to go back to the scene of the crime as that was where Thanksgiving was taking place. Even though I knew I had been egregiously wronged, I just buried my feelings to get along. This wouldn’t be the last time either. When someone forces you out of your home, destabilizing your environment, and destroying your sense of safety and wellbeing, well, it messes up your head. Also, having a family rally around the offender holiday after holiday, knowing what’s going on but still carrying, on psychologically screws you up even more.
Logically, my mindset was “the needs of the many trumps the few”. But emotionally, I began to shut down in ways, I’m only beginning to understand. To try and quickly wrap this up, I began to shut down academically (failed both classes I should have easily Aced), I was making poor life choices (staying numb to everything and was incredibly hypervigilant), and I eventually would go back to live with this person on two different occasions.
See, during my time away she would be kind, charming, charismatic, and almost seemingly loving, which screwed up my reality as to what was really going on. Like a siren luring ships into destruction, I’d be comforted by her false promises and hidden agenda. So, when I decided to go freelance, it seemed like a no brainer, we were on better terms, what could go wrong? Well, everything.
She was so good at twisting words, getting people on her side, and changing her mood as quickly as she breathed, that I began to question my experience. Even when I knew she was clearly in the wrong, I would second guess myself. This pattern led to ruminating thoughts, and when I was extremely stressed– which was almost all the time– I couldn’t think my way out of a paper bag.
I recently read a book about dealing with a narcissistic family member and I cannot tell you how much peace, healing, and validation I got. When you’re dealing with someone of that nature, it’s almost like fighting a monster that is very real to you and imaginary to everyone else. People like that erode your sense of self, tear you down, and then manipulate you into thinking you’re useless without their help. It’s difficult to identify when you’re in the throws of it.
The weird part and I have to thank Brett, I suppose, is that when someone outside my family had tried to use these tactics, it was easy to see. But because she’s family, I was none the wiser, that and I had never experienced this kind of dysfunctional home environment. Living with my parents was pretty easy in the sense that I had my space, they were supportive and loving. Plus, they aren’t the manipulative, gaslighting type. So, I had no reference for what was going on and she was extremely good (and still is) at making me look like the bad guy.
Just to give a brief breakdown of my destructive behaviors, I’d have bouts of hopeless feelings, self-sabotaging behavior (with work and health), learned helplessness, hypervigilance, and lethargy. Everything was doom and gloom and nothing seemed like it mattered. Externally, I seemed unaffected and congenial. Internally, well, I was a big numb sack of parts. The biggest thing I didn’t realize until last week was how dissociative with my feelings I had become. Don’t get me wrong, I’m naturally more logical-leaning than a feeling type of person. But I have come to realize that my sense of arrested development is a coping mechanism from being under this person’s thumb for so long.
I also stopped trying to accomplish things because of a deep-rooted fear of success. That fear wasn’t because I was scared of achievement, but, I had become conditioned to be afraid of her response whenever something good happened for me. Each major conflict we’ve had has occurred when something eventful was going on in my life. I used to hide when good things happened because I was afraid of the retaliation. Our last major showdown (which prompted my travel escapades), happened after she found out that I had gotten a pretty lucrative contract with a university in town. My brother had been present when I received the news. I told him not to say anything to anyone, but he had happened to mention it to her. One day, as I was leaving my room, she appeared out of nowhere and said:
“I hear you’re going to start working with X university. Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
I remember stumbling on about just finding out, terrified of the implications of this conversation. She walked away with this eerie shrug, and I knew it would not be the last of this. Anyway, retaliation did happen on her birthday, to which she again (for the 3rd time, I know, I’m an idiot) kicked me out. Fortunately, I had had enough and had the financial resources to go my own way. After leaving, I had the wonderful opportunity to see 9 different states, hang out in Eugene, Or. for 4 months, and make many neat friends along the way. Those experiences were so necessary for me to build up a resolve. Even still, I had to return to the scene of the crimes(s) for family holidays as though none of this stuff had occurred.
Breaking the cycle
I can’t begin to describe the mental gymnastics one has to go through to justify and tolerate such in an insane cycle of behavior. For the most part, I was able to trick myself into believing I was fine, and to the outside world, it appeared as such. What made it even worse was how these manufactured family holidays messed with my head. Everything revolved around her, her house, her control. If it’s not about her, she would pout or shun people. I’d have to tiptoe around just to appease her fragile sense of self, even to my detriment.
To best describe it, it’s like being shot in the gut, everyone knows who shot you, but because you’re bleeding out, it’s too uncomfortable to look at, and you, the wounded person must alter your reality to appease everyone involved. Now, I understand why I had this underlying rage (which only manifested if I drank) lurking about. Looking back, I completely understand my behavior patterns and why I had become such a passive person in my life.
I will say, that I am grateful for certain bouts of resiliency that I had, and now, I’m doubling down on that. One of the things I learned reading books on this dynamic is that people with this affliction target those they perceive to be strong, which means I’m strong enough to survive this and move on in my life. So, as I said a few posts ago, I’m glad this person has “kicked me out” of her life. It’s been a blessing. Sure it means I’m walking away from certain things, but it also means I’m walking back to me, and that is way more important than anything else.
Now that I’ve gotten this all out of my head, it leaves prime real estate for me to do the things I want to accomplish. That, and we can go back to my regularly (not-regular) scheduled posts about things that interest me and not things that have haunted me. I will say that, if anyone has experienced this type of abuse/family dynamic, apparently, it’s more common than you think and it’s not your fault. Don’t feel ashamed if someone is mistreating you. At the end of the day, the only person you’re responsible for is yourself. Lastly, I’ll list a few resources that helped me heal and move past this. I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.