I have been an abuser.
I committed physical violence against my spouse and children. For the longest time I manipulated and isolated my spouse, played them against their family and friends. Gaslighted and undermined. I attempted to control them by withholding money. I cheated on both my spouse and long-term partner. I’ve been that oily charming sleezebag. The nice guy who’ll say whatever it took to cast myself as the victim and play your sympathies. I’d say whatever to whoever with an easy smile if it got me what I wanted.
Eighteen months ago my ex-partner forced me to watch the impact of my decisions up close and in person. The experience shook me, forced me see the real, lasting effects of my abuse for the first time. Trauma echoes through life, like the ripples from a rock dropped in a pond. So does trauma in the nightmares, distrust, flashbacks, aversions that go on for years. My abuse didn’t affect one person; it affected everyone they came into contact with.
What will always haunt was the change in my partner’s face when they realised I had lied yet again. My partner still loved me then. They tried for us as a couple. Their biggest concern was our relationship. Mine was “How do I cover my ass and make this problem go away?”
The news out of Belfast last week broke my heart. I’ve been both the abused and the abuser. For that poor woman now begins the rest of her life. It wasn’t enough that four men gang-raped her. She had the courage to face them in court and endure the humiliation of cross-examination, the media circus and awful abuse from online commentators. Now she has find peace with being a statistic, a rape victim, and somehow rebuild her life with that.
Every single action or inaction are decisions you alone make. There”s no “little” or “only” or “but” when it comes to abuse. You abuse that person. You make a choice. No excuses.
When I cheated on my spouse and partner: Decision.
When I lied and omitted facts: Decision.
When I made mean comments: Decision.
When I was violent: Decision.
When the rugby players raped: Decision.
When the rugby players lied and doubled down and slandered: Decision.
Abusers give themselves permission. There’s a grant of agency, something I’ve talked about before in less direct terms; my own permission came from the abuse I went through as a child. Poor me, I can’t be wrong, I’m the real victim here, you know? The rugby players were rough-and-tumble alpha males. Their permission was that they could. The peer reinforcement came from each other. It trickled down from a sports culture that rewards aggression and permissive self-action.
You’ve heard about toxic masculinity? Here you are.
If frustrates me when people talk about consent (“no means no”) on social media. Consent is only the sharp end of the abuser’s value system, the yes or no in the moment of action. It only helps healthy people when you remind them about the value of consent. Their willingness to respect it (or not) is the product of decision tree bolstered by their peers and environment. When you decides to perform an abusive act, you make everything support that act. “No” becomes “yes” when you twist everyhing around to support it. As a domestic abuser, I manipulated and attacked my spouse because that’s what I decided to do. The rapists in Belfast raped because they decided to rape. They reinforced each other’s decisions and drew on support from their friends and peers after the fact.
My choices cost me everything-my children, partners, family, friends, and a future. Since then I have made every effort to challenge myself and my abusive behaviours. Reform takes being able to say “I did this” without any hedging. I did things which had an effect, end of story. To learn compassion takes a level of humility and sorrow and remorse that few abusers ever reach. Or even want to reach; being an abuser is an investment in your own identity. Like the girl in the lion, you can’t stop and get off without the destruction of everything you are.
There’s no “cure” for abuse. I’m not cured. Great, I’ve made amends, righted wrongs, but I have to be vigilant about my potential for abusive choices. I hope that someday I will enjoy a healthy relationship.
Abusers, you can change. Deep down you know that you’ve done bad things. It’s never too late to stop and admit and help heal. Humans are compassionate creatures despite all our flaws. Compassion and empathy from other people have humbled me in the last year. There have been times of sorrow and grief that have left me in tears, but also moments of quiet joy and healing.
I don’t trust published statistics about domestic and familial abuse. My experience has been that given numbers are low. Most people caught in an abusive situation don’t recognise it what it is. As I’ve reached out and listened over the past year I’ve learned how many toxic person are out there. Odds are good you know at least one person who hasn’t spoken out.
If you are being abused, we’re here for you. I know that it seems like the end of the world to leave, but I swear to you that it gets better. Tomorrow will be better.
If you are an abuser, stop. If you lie and cheat and control and hit, stop. Everything you’ve done has been a choice. Stop. It’s not your temper, not the drink, not your job, not your partner. It’s you. You chose. Stop. You are better than this. Stop. Don’t say you’ll do something; do something. Talk is worthless.
Over the last few months I’ve helped several people to escape or recover from abusive situations. There are far more hurt and vulnerable people than you’d imagine. A minority of abuse is overt and physical. People make their partner feel like shit so they’ll feel better. Or exert control or gaslight and undermine. We’ve found a million ways to abuse.
For me, I walk a fine line. I want to leave my past there because I’m working for a better future. I need to forgive myself and learn to love myself. Why should I skulk around in shame forever when I’ve done everything in my power to challenge myself and make amends? I want a quiet life, a good one with the bright promise of a better tomorrow for me and mine. Despite that, being able to face my past bravely and openly-vulnerable honesty-is at the core of challenging abusive mentality.
When it came to the Belfast and Repeal movements on social media, I kept my head down and mouth shut. Like, what moral authority do I have to speak up? I’d rather do than say. Silence though… bad things come from silence, like perpetuation. “What will the neighbours think?” “That’s of my business.” Patterns of behaviours will only change through conscious opposition.
When I wrote the above post I decidede to use gender-neutral language. I wanted to communicate abuse as a function of abusive mentality. It doesn’t matter who you are but you carry that potential. People have committed the worse of crimes for the best of perceived reasons.