[This DrP piece was first published on Medium’s Detox Your Heart]
That morning I shook in my friends’ house after he dragged me out of bed and stole my things, they told me “We must call the police”. I told them “Don’t. He’s a good man”.
That night he forced me to do MDMA and wouldn’t let go of me because I’d gone to the toilet, and I told someone the truth of the abuse for the first time. But I said, “He’s a good man”.
That day I texted my best friend about the time he pointed a knife at me because I wanted to go to bed. She was horrified. I said, “He was drunk. He’s a good man”.
I know how badly you want to believe your man is a good man.
I know how desperately you refuse to label his actions as ‘abuse’, much less call him an ‘abuser’.
And yes, I remember my lecturer teaching my 20-year old self all about the cycle of abuse. And yet I couldn’t figure out I was being abused.
I thought I needed to be bruised and battered to be considered ‘an abused woman’. Or for anyone to take me seriously. Much less, for me to take myself seriously.
More importantly, I saw him as a good man.
Good men don’t abuse people.
Good men have reasons for doing what they do.
Sure, good men slip up. They do stupid stuff. Who doesn’t?
Good men in bad company do even more stupid stuff. Who doesn’t?
Good men — when intoxicated — do extremely stupid stuff. Which they apologise for. Which makes him good, right? Remorse means he is good, right?
Hey, cerebral cortex, make sense of things
Do you know who the most brilliant Photoshopper is? Not the geniuses behind every Victoria’s Secret, Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue shoot. It’s your brain.
Cognitive Photoshop: When we rewrite events to make sense of them.
Sometimes we draw meaning, close the lid, and write our next chapter unencumbered. (Sidenote: That actually involves a lot more than your brain.)
But more often than not, Cognitive Photoshop digs a deep hole to bury you alive within.
Your brain can justify anything.
It’ll tell you to look for all the times he’s been good to you — but over time, your standards have lowered so much even bad treatment looks good.
It’ll threaten you “How dare you, ungrateful bitch?” if you dare to think of the times he hurt you. So you bury your feelings away.
It’ll preach “Hurt people hurt people”, as you seek to understand his story of why he does the things he does. You douse yourself further with shame and guilt, and the flames of his abuse cause you to immolate like a witch burned at the stake.
He’ll blow smoke and erect mirrors to confuse you. He’s a master of mindgames. He’s been doing it his whole life.
“You’re too sensitive”.
“I’m only trying to help”.
He told me,
“It blows away the next day when I wake up. It’s a slip-up. And you’re still holding on to it. You’re so unforgiving. I don’t know who you are anymore”.
Even though what happened was you were sleeping, he got high, and he hurt you. You tried to keep yourself safe and go back to sleep. And the next day you tell him never to do that to you again (Yes you did stand up for yourself). Then he gets drunk that evening, repeats his behaviour, and blames you for getting him drunk.
Eventually your brain believes, it’s all your fault.
What can you do to get the amazing man back?
That wonderful whirlwind of how it began — that he reminds you of.
Because you’ve tasted it before, you know it’s possible.
And you know you’re not asking for the moon. If it’s gone away, and he’s blaming you, it has to be something you’re doing.
You are the bad one.
He is the good one.
I get you. Who wants to see the man you love — the man whom you once upon a time believed loved you with all his heart — as a bad man?
He is a good man.
“But we can be the fairytale”
Hey Sister, you and I know that abuse exists.
That’s probably why you’re reading this.
Even if your brain has justified it all away, so even though all his behaviours check the boxes of an abuser, a psychopath or a narcissist, you think it is different in our case.
“I believe in him, in us. We can be the fairytale. The exception to the rule. The miracle”.
Because he’s a good man.
I walked in your shoes once.
I believed that once, like every woman who’s been abused.
The economics of abuse
We talk about the vicious cycle of abuse. Honeymoon — abuse — discard. Or the various cuts and colours this is dressed in.
But it feels abstract and intellectual.
So let’s make it into something you and I can understand and feel.
Exchange. Transactions. Currencies. Money.
Yes, think of abuse in terms of money.
Imagine you spent $50 on dinner for you both last week. This week, he spent $45. The same currency.
But by some twisted logic of his, his $45 eclipses your $50.
Your 50 has become Indonesian Rupiah.
His 45 has become British Pounds.
This isn’t just about dinner; it’s about everything you both do — from taking out the trash to having sex to doing the dishes.
This isn’t about you being calculative and tallying up your contributions; rather, it’s his tactical calculus on how he becomes The Good Man and how you are The Piece of Shit.
(Or, insert any derogatory term he calls you. Slut. Cunt. Whore. In front of others. In front of your kids.).
Everything you’ve done is underplayed, denied or swept under the carpet; and you’re not even claiming credit. And everything he’s done is magnified and hyperinflated. He’s actively claiming credit and reminding you. Love does not clic-clac on an abacus; he does. Because he does not love. He is incapable of love, no matter how he pretends. (Read the stories. Check the neuroscience.)
Then suddenly you learn to be grateful for a day he doesn’t hurt you.
So everyday you pay for stability and peace. Even if you are walking on eggshells, it’s still peaceful and stable if there’s no visible conflict, right?
You pay, by giving in to his unreasonable requests (that you don’t even think are unreasonable anymore, because you are desensitised like a patient on Novocaine before the dentist drills into your molars and slices your gums).
You pay, in ways you don’t know or don’t want to admit. Like your trauma. Your aching body. The tears you cry to yourself. And how you really feel about your life and your future.
Of course there are days he decides to be a brute — and I’m guessing it’s getting more frequent. Even though you didn’t do anything to provoke him. And remember, you’re still paying your daily dues.
He tells you you’re nuts. Then perhaps he softens and you remember the magic again. He gives you some reason you greedily gobble, that your brain will justify as true and real. He promises you things will change.
You believe you’re “working things out”.
The Good Day dawns — the clouds clear and the sun shines. He becomes kind and loving. “If only this is everyday!”, you think. Hallelujah.
So you become trained to pay more — take more shit, let him dictate more of what you can wear, consent to doing the things you are ashamed of. Trained, like a lab rat displaying the right behaviour in exchange for a food pellet.
Back to money. The value of your currency has eroded further.
By no fault of yours. Just by him manipulating it.
So not only does he get away with abhorrent behaviour, he also wins from you kowtowing further to him. It serves his ego. The power makes him giddy. God, he loves it. You are his puppet, he is Rasputin. He knows, he can do more the next time, because he can get away with it.
So I ask you,
Is your self-respect worth trading for a Good Day with him?
What does it say about a man who operates like a blackmailer? Every payout to him must increase.
Here’s what you want me to tell you
You call me and say, you’ve read the things I’ve written. You’ve scoured the interwebs. You’ve devoured the books.
You say, he ticks the boxes. Oh God, it’s scary and uncanny.
You say, you want things to change.
But really, if you want to believe he’s a good man, things will change. For the worse.
Because you’ve told me you just want the magic bullet that will make him nice again. Like the man you once knew.
I say this with all the kindness in my heart and love I have, the way I wish someone who knew about my situation had told me.
The man you once knew is a lie.
He wore a mask to hook you in.
He does not have the capacity to have empathy for you.
I cannot and will not hold your hand and say,
Yes, you can love it away.
Yes, I can wave a magic wand, and channel your Guardian Angel therapist or priest or medium, and make it all beautiful.
Yes, he is a good man.
Then you’ll tell me about the times he managed to change.
I’m guessing he holds you to ransom about the times that’s happened. And everytime he slips and becomes even worse, he tells you you’re ungrateful for not acknowledging those great times.
I’m also betting that those times he’s changed are transient.
And those changes are piecemeal.
But you want to be grateful. And loving. And supportive.
A good man
A good man doesn’t pretend to change.
A good man doesn’t play mindgames for the power trip.
A good man doesn’t make you pay for a day without conflict.
I don’t care what his father or mother have done to him — or whoever in his family. We all come with baggage. And some of us learn to stop doing shitty hurtful things to others when we realise we are hurting them — that is being good. Decent.
A good man gives you an environment where you blossom.
Yes only you are in-charge of how you want to live your life. But you can try hard and fight whilst living in a warzone; it is difficult to bloom.
You want to see yourself as a decent, warm loving human being who tries her best. I say, never let go of that. But let your empathy mutate into your superpower for someone worthy; do not waste it on a demon.
You want a fairytale. You want to believe in fairytales. I say, do that. Never let go of that.