Recently, I decided to share a poem called The Burned Remains of Words. Some folks responded that they had experienced these same feelings at some point in their own lives. Others privately messaged me with concern with what situation I might be dealing with at home. The thing is, while I wrote the poem recently, it was written about my first long-term relationship at the ripe age of fourteen years old. He was my first experience of many types of abuse - his weapon of choice, Emotional Abuse.
Face Emotional Abuse & Finally Allow the Happiness In
There are no visible scars, but the devastation becomes buried deep within the bones. It is embedded in the minds of the abused.
I was fourteen when I met my abuser. He was sixteen, attractive, funny, and (seemingly) sweet. We spent a summer together, he practically lived at his grandmother’s house next door to mine. At fourteen, I couldn’t imagine life could get any better. Still very young, I hadn’t known the signs of emotional abuse and by the time I realized I was being abused, I didn’t know how to get out.
That September was when things began to change. With him being older, he attended the high school and I remained in middle school. Unable to watch my every move, the idea forged itself into his mind that I was cheating on him. I was a whore who snuck around between classes, stealing kisses with random guys. In reality, I was not doing any of those things but despite my constant reassuring that he was the only guy I wanted to be with - it was never enough. The lack of trust and accusations turned into controlling, telling me who I could be friends with and who was “off limits” because they would be a bad influence on me.
I continued to defend myself against his ever present complaints about me: my weight (I was always underweight), my lack in sexual experience or sexual appetite (I was fourteen, he the first.), the way I dressed (because I didn’t dress sexy enough, like his ex), my inability to control the tears from running down my face as he tore me apart, piece by piece every day.
At the same time, the double standard was becoming clear: while I had to be waiting by the phone for his call, he rarely was home when I called. While I had a select group of “approved” friends, he was free to hang out with whomever he pleased - including his ex with the sexy clothes and the wild sexual appetite. He could accuse me of any and everything, but if I questioned him on his whereabouts and who with, I was an irrational bitch.
Almost a full year into our relationship, we got into an argument on the phone. He abruptly hung up on me - the knots in my stomach were unbearable. My heart tightened as the tears burst from my eyes. I called him back, repeatedly. The phone line was a steady stream of busy signals as I frantically hit the flash button, then redial, listened, repeat until I finally heard a ring. Only, instead of him answering the phone, the sound of Marilyn Manson’s Beautiful People singing the lyrics that would never be forgotten:
“I don’t want you.
And I don’t need you.”
I sat on the floor of my bedroom, listening to those lyrics for what seemed like hours. The words sunk into my mind, attaching themselves to me, taunting me.
I remember digging my fingernails into my skin. I felt worthless, useless, unloved - unworthy of love. I felt unbearable pain within me that I couldn’t release. That night, I found a razor and began cutting, wanting to let those words spill out, to feel something other than the numbness that had taken over. The lyrics continued to play from the phone, my inflamed skin now burning from the guilt. He had hurt me without touching me physically, without screaming at me. He hurt me with words.
It took me several months to finally end the relationship. On the day I finally left him, I had found him sitting on the bench outside of the hospital (where his grandmother was being treated) with my best friend. When I confronted him, he blamed me for pushing him to her. It was somehow my fault that he had begun to pursue a relationship with one of the only friends I was “allowed” to have.
Unable to stop sobbing, unable to stop the knots in my stomach again, I pedaled home as fast as I could. Before I made it home, I felt nauseous so I stopped on a wooded path and threw up. The anger, the pain, the guilt - it all came up until there was nothing left. Emptiness.
I lived with that emptiness for years. Any time I felt pain, sadness, guilt, shame, fear - I forced it out. If I was empty, there was nothing left to hurt me. The emptiness consumed me. I obsessed about it. When someone got close enough for me to question whether or not I could trust them - the answer was always no. I pushed them away once they crossed that line I had drawn in my mind. My relationships always began and ended the same after that - I would meet someone, enjoy their company and allow them into my life. I felt love for all of them, but I never trusted any of them. Through the course of several relationships, I would experience sexual abuse, physical abuse, and substance abuse. I would accept it - the abuse. I felt I deserved it - after all, it was all I ever knew and it continued to find me - in all forms.
Over the span of twenty-plus years, I have talked with many doctors about my problems. I have been prescribed medication after medication to treat my anxiety, depression, mood disorder, … I’ve been on Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Xanax, some others that I can’t remember the names. Some have been a temporary help, but none had addressed the underlying problem. There is no prescription drug to help fix years of abuse. There is no magic pill that will take away the things embedded in your mind: the broken self-confidence, the lost love of self, the lack of self-worth.
It wasn’t until I found a therapist to talk to about the things I kept hidden from others that I started to feel better. Little by little, she helped me peel back the armor I had built around me. Not only was I guarding myself from others, but I was denying myself the ability to let go of the pain within. I was denying myself love - allowing others to fully love me and allowing me to love myself.
I can’t say that a few sessions with a therapist has made the past couple of decades of hurt completely go away. As much as I have held on to that as a part of my life I hate, if I completely write it off as though it never happened then I will be missing a large part of myself. Denial is not healing. Facing your fears, facing your hurt, facing your pain and telling yourself that none of that will control you any more - that’s healing. It’s moving on and eventually accepting that you deserve to be loved, you deserve happiness, you are worth it.
Melissa Flickinger is the founder and owner of Melissa Flick’s Author Services, an Author Assistant and Book Marketing Manager. She co-hosts #BookMarketingChat, lead by author and social media expert Rachel Thompson, each Wednesday 6pm PST/9pm EST on Twitter.
She is currently writing her first novel, WRECKED. A story on alcohol, substance abuse and recovery.
Melissa studies Creative Writing through the University of Iowa and a is a self-proclaimed coffee addict.