The first time he threw his darkness at me, I felt my stomach turn to stone and jump into my throat. I knew what he’d done was wrong, but in under an hour I’d wrestled my shock to the ground until I’d convinced myself that his actions didn’t reflect on his character. He was like a new, shiny button and I wanted him to stay that way, so I lied to myself:
“He didn’t mean to do it. It was a mistake.”
In those days I didn’t know there were men like him in the world. I had no idea that cruelty ever got that ugly.
But it did. Every time I saw the sick, sick viciousness in him, I convinced myself that nobody was capable of such things, so it can’t have happened at all.
So began my era of being nothing.
To forgive obvious abuse that your partner denies is abuse, you must generate self-doubt until your beliefs fizzle into nothing. There’s that word again. The nothingness will grow and grow until an entire lifetime of perceptions evaporate. You’ve been turned to vapour. All that you once knew to be true vanishes. What can you trust when every facet of your psyche has become invisible? Nothing. There’s only one way left to go, now: down.
So down, I went. I sank beneath an intolerable self-hatred.
Sometimes he apologised. Sometimes he told me he was evil. For a sheer second, I thought he’d go back to being that shiny new button, but by the time I’d done the work of forgiving, he’d already moved on to the next lie: it was me. It was my fault. I was too sensitive.
An abuser fragments your reality by telling a lie a minute until you’re so confused your identity frays utterly. I left him many times. Afterwards, he’d always be sorry. He’d even cry, so I would return. He was the new button, not the monster after all. Wasn’t he?
The question I’m asked more than any other about that year is, “Why did I keep going back?”
Because going back is the hallmark of abuse, not leaving in one easy swoop. You need self-worth to escape so effortlessly.
I went back because I thought I was nothing. I thought my values were nothing. My perceptions had become so imperceptible they were nothing, too, so I’d stopped believing them. He defined my entire world, so if he said I should stay, I should stay.
Why did I keep going back? Because I loved the lie of him and thought all I’d known about myself before we met was a lie.
People like me go back because we think nobody else will bother with a nothing. That’s why the only way out is love.