Note: I debated a lot about sharing this particular piece. It feels very raw and personal and it pertains to subject matters I don’t often discuss on such a public forum, namely abuse and self harm. But we are only as sick as our secrets, and I am tired of keeping this one. I am tired of hearing the rationalizations from people who weren’t there, the ones who insist that my abuser “really does love me” and put the onus on me to fix a relationship that is not only beyond repair, but one I have no interest in revisiting. Being a part of someone’s life is a privilege, not a right, and my abuser’s rights have all been permanently revoked. If you do not understand that, then consider yourself lucky–you have likely never endured this type of abuse from someone who was supposed to love and protect you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about rage lately. My abuser had a lot of it; they told me once that they were laughed at for crying as a child, so they taught themself to get angry. They let me know that showing pain or sadness was weak–rage was powerful. Preferred. They laughed at me when I cried, which only made me cry more. I would get mad at myself for being unable to keep from crying until I cultivated my own rage. Whenever I felt like that, I wanted to break something, but possessions were too valuable. My abuser liked things, preferred them to stay pristine and beautiful instead of loved and worn. So I couldn’t break things.
My body, on the other hand, was fair game. When my abuser raged, they hurt my body. They were never sorry for what they did because that’s what my body was for. The punching bag on our back porch grew dusty from disuse in its redundancy. It didn’t take long for me to turn my own rage and frustration on my body, too. It hurt less that way.
If I hit my head against the doorway of my closet, my hair hid the sore lumps the way it had when my abuser hit me in the head with a hairbrush. I don’t remember what I said that day that incited them to do that, but I must’ve been young if they were brushing my hair for me. My body holds a lot of secrets like that, some I remember and others I don’t. Before going to college, I saw my medical records and was shocked to see I’d dislocated my left elbow when I was two.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You didn’t want to leave Gymboree and did the ‘limp baby thing’ and dislocated your elbow,” they said.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe it did happen like that. Or maybe not, I’ll never know for sure. I sometimes wonder if that’s what made them careful, made them hit me in places less likely to be seen like my back and my chest. Open handed, not closed. I often resented my body that it didn’t bruise easily, didn’t side with me to give me proof of the aggression she enacted on my body. All I had were my words, and I didn’t think anyone would ever believe me over my abuser. After all, it was my fault they did those things to me. And anyway, “We don’t volunteer information.” The rage that beat my skin was because of what I did or didn’t say or do, and I didn’t want other people to know who I really was.
I started opening my skin when I was ten. Angry red lines cut into my arms like pressure valves. Half of the time I expected to see steam hiss out of my flesh instead of blood welling up like the tears I didn’t want to cry. Once, as I sat on the floor of my closet, watching my arm bleed, I impulsively picked up a white gel pen that lay nearby on the floor. I disassembled the pen, removed the tube of ink, and blew it into the small incision in my arm. My first tattoo. Decades later, it’s almost impossible to see unless the conditions are perfect. I don’t scar easily–even the evidence of my C-section is nearly invisible–but I know that tiny tattoo is there. An impulsive, minute attempt at improving the body I hated. I have other tattoos now, darker, bolder ones that loudly say the things I want said. But the one I gave myself in my closet will always be my first.
I no longer cut myself, but the impulse to self harm has never really gone away. I was raised to believe rage belonged on my body, and my body alone. We preserve possessions and we don’t volunteer information. Why would I volunteer information? Information led to rage which led to pain and fear and secrets on the floor of my closet long after my abuser had gone to sleep. At least this way I only had to suffer at the hands of my abuser and me. They had me convinced everyone else would side with them and I didn’t want to hear other people agree. So I punished my body, flogging myself with the vow of silence I felt I had to take.
We don’t volunteer information.