The Thing About Gaslighting and Abusive Behavior

Listen, all of us need to deeply understand that we are heading into THE most dangerous time in the modern history of this country. I don’t think we are seeing this very clearly. Anyone who understands anything about domestic violence knows that the most dangerous time for a woman leaving an abusive relationship is when she is preparing to leave and immediately after she has left. This is the time that approximately 70% of the women murdered after leaving these types of relationships are murdered. Look it up.

For this country, we are 1) heading into the most consequential election of our lifetimes and that impeached POS POTUS and his racist sycophants do not want him ousted. Look for the cruelties and horrors to intensify for BIPOC. 2) We have heavily armed white terrorists across this nation in every area, large and small, urban and rural. They have been the most animated and have been itching for a civil war and a chance to murder BIPOC for generations. 3) We have the unabated unmanaged viral pandemic which is only growing exponentially and will be dealing with flu season as we head into fall and winter. The deaths are going to steeply and starkly increase. 4) Because of the pandemic, many of us will be in our homes. That means for folks living in abusive situations, they are now a captive audience and target for their abusers. That means people struggling with addiction are relapsing at higher rates. That means that people who are dealing with depression and isolation have fewer points of connection with their people. 5) The economy is only going to continue to collapse under this purposely mismanaged pandemic. That means more unhoused people, more people needing access to a well of resources that do not currently exist or are in steep decline, and more businesses closing in our communities.

These are the most dangerous days and we STILL have children in CONCENTRATION CAMPS suffering deep trauma and repetitive abuse – sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse. Breonna Taylor’s murderers are STILL free. Kids in Flint Michigan STILL do not have potable water. These issues are systemic and will 1) not be addressed with one presidential term (should that illegitimate POS be removed – and if removed, will he leave, will we have a peaceful exchange of power?). And 2) attempts to deal with racial equity will be met with swift, severe, and depraved white rage, backlash, and violence. This is the reality we are dealing with as I see it and I know I have many blind spots and do not see it all. The most dangerous time in this presidency, in this country, is right now and we will not be “done” with that for a LONG time. The work continues and must press forward with the same urgency, energy, the same coalition building, and allyship as it is moving right now. (Well better allyship and coalition building is necessary but I’ll leave that for another conversation.) Pay attention.

After divorcing my ex, he stalked and harassed me non-stop for years. Literally years. Our relationship, when we were together, was passionate/hot and cold. After we split, he would do stuff like call me and when I didn’t answer he’d call back over and over again. Over twenty times within about a 10 minute period. And in that cascade of phone calls, he’d leave several menacing messages, send menacing texts – 10-20 of them. This would happen several times a week for years. Literally YEARS. And the longer I didn’t answer, the more wound up he’d get and the more menacing and threatening he’d become. Me not answering was sometimes because I was in the middle of something – teaching my undergrad students, in class myself, driving to pick up kids. Or I figured he was drunk. Or I just didn’t want to talk to him. Or it doesn’t matter why. It seriously doesn’t matter why.

When I lived in the small town we had lived in as a family, he’d drive by the house constantly. He’d do so to intimidate my son, knowing I was likely not home from work or school. It freaked my son out who was a middle school aged kid at the time. He would come home after school and be alone until I picked up his sister and we would get home. It was so bad that I’d drive the 15 miles from work/school to pick him up when he got home from school and take him back to class with me.

One time, while talking to the ex on the phone, he tried telling me that he had both myself and my daughter lasered. I asked what the fuck he was talking about. In his word salad sentences, he said it was cheap. For $25 he was able to have us lasered so he knew where we were at all times. He could follow us on satellite from wherever he was at any time he chose. My daughter was in middle school and we’d been divorced more than five years by this point. And most importantly, this was a lie.

There were so many moments before this where I had warning signs. He was cruel to my son. He was less cruel to my daughter, yet still cruel. He was cruel to me. He was cruel to his dog. He was an alcoholic, a rage-oholic, sadistic really in many ways, and a bully. He loved to see us hurt, scared, etc. And the less I responded to his cruelties, the more he’d target the kids to get at me. Boy, I sure know how to pick em.

I have story after story of him drunk driving, with one or both of my kids in the car, him putting his vehicle in a ditch, rolling and finally totaling it, having my kids throw his empty beer cans out the window when he was clearly clocked by a cop and saw the cop turn around, driving with our four-year old daughter on a 4-wheeler, drunk, and rolling it, whisper screaming to my son, standing nose to nose with me – screaming at me, calling me every name in the book, spit flying out of his mouth, and veins popping out of his forehead and neck. I don’t have the flight response. I very much have the fight or freeze response, depending on the situation. This behavior always sparks my fight response. Best believe we fought hard. It was never physical except for the male posturing of chest puffing, loud, mean words, or the one time he punched the pillow right next to my head, etc. his behavior was meant to intimidate, control, and frighten me. It only enraged me. And he’ll tell you I laid hands on him because I’d shove him out of my space or shove him away from the kids. I’m the aggressive one.

There were many many cruelties. And twice as many lies. Stupid lies, big lies, alcoholic lies, lies, lies, and more lies. In our parenting plan, I had insisted that when the kid was with him, he wouldn’t drink while he had her. He insisted I live by the same rule. Well, I had no problem with that, even as she spent 95% of her time with me, alcohol was easy to avoid as her safety and security was number one for me. I was also focused on bigger things. The sacrifice would be worth it but I knew he’d never adhere to the rule himself. So, one day when I went to pick her up, he was walking across the street from his parent’s house with a beer in his hand. I inquired about the beer and he set it down in the middle of the road and asked straight faced, “what beer?” I started to argue and realized, it didn’t matter and was not worth my time or energy because he was just sticking with the lie and doubling down on it over and over again. He was a prolific liar. The only liar who may be better than him is our impeached piece of shit POTUS.

I say all of this to illuminate the depths of human depravity, the lengths people who are so significantly damaged will go to maintain control. There were moments over many years at the end of my relationship, that I felt I and my kids may be in danger. If he’d had a firearm in those first two years, I have no doubt the danger level would have been significantly higher and given how he was spiraling at the time, I’m not sure we wouldn’t have ended up a statistic. All of us. The danger was real and it was violently present every day for literally years of my life almost daily.

Throughout my life, I’ve lived through various traumas. I had a rough childhood. An absent alcoholic single parent with mental health issues. No connection to my Black family. Introduced to drugs at 13 years old – and it was coke and crank before weed for me, just FYI. I was pretty much raising my younger brother at the age of 10. Left home at 15. Dropped out of high school at 16. Been sexually molested, assaulted, and harassed. I was homeless for six months with a six-month old child. Oh, and there was a shootout in my home when I was a toddler I guess. Lifelong financial trauma. Just Jesus. That’s so much and that’s still not all of it. I am at the upper end of the scale on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire. The high upper end.

However, through all of that, I’ve learned to navigate trauma and danger. I do suspect I am a bit numb to danger based on my history, but I know how to survive shit. I’m resilient. So many times I should have been dead in my life and am not. I’m still here, considering my next move to make the world a little bit better place. In all of this, I’ve learned some survival skills that might help others survive this socio-political historical moment. I’m worried about a lot of people and I’m seeing even the strong, highly educated humans I know starting to crack. This worries me because if their thinking can become distorted so easily by the magnitude of misinformation out there, if they can be roused by the fears and anxieties of the moment, I worry about the larger and longer battle ahead.

Because I am a survivor of so much trauma, spent seven years with my ex, being repetitively lied to, I have some advice. That man fucked my mind over so badly that by the time I left, I was having a hard time discerning reality from fiction. It took a long time to untangle, about 3 years to undo the years of mindfucking that man gave me. I got through the immediate post-divorce years by focusing on my kids, my education, my career, my grandma who I was medical and financial power of attorney for (this was 30,000 miles on the road visiting her over a 3 month period and a solid year and a half of doing this care taking work, while raising two kids along, doing grad school. Teaching two classes, and trying to position myself professionally) and the future. And let me emphasize without going into deep detail that we had many miserably difficult years. So so many miserably difficult years. I’ve written about the deep poverty we experienced and how hard that was to survive. I know deep poverty. I was a single-parent as an undergrad and on public assistance. I’ve lived a life! Many lives, really.

I survived by making short term goals that would move me closer to my long term goals. I aligned my personal and professional life so my labor was most efficient. In doing so, I was able to stay focused on the long term goal of completing my studies and continued to build a better life for my family. I had to readjust my expectations from time to time but I never let go of the magnitude of the primary goals I had and still have.

How we survive this moment is to focus on the long term goals of a more just and equitable society. As Wes Moore discusses in The Other Wes Moore, we need to be clear what our work is, not our job, our work. What is the work that feeds our souls and gives our lives purpose? Focus on that. Use every opportunity to build and hone the skills and leverage the opportunities to keep our work focused on the goal. Bettina Love mentioned in a keynote, know your lane. Not know your place, know your lane. We need to know what our talents, strengths, expertise, and passions are and where we can best apply them. We may try things and realize that is not a good use of these talents, strengths, expertise, and passions and then switch course. And I have identified that we have three primary resources: time, energy, and money. We need to focus our limited resources toward our work, in our lane. I have used these three principles to guide much of my decision making.

I’ve also come to learn about the Native American Haudenosaunee 7-generations principle. When I am faced with a big decision, I try to think back seven generations and ask how I am honoring my ancestor’s struggles that brought me into this world and I try to look seven generations ahead and ask if I am preparing this world, my communities, and my future family with this decision. This helps center me in my work while keeping my people sharply in focus, this past and present. It reminds me why I am here, on this planet, in this place, and that I have important contributions to make.

I’m not sure how I’ve survived all the trauma I’ve experienced in life and have managed some semblance of sanity, maintained my love of humanity, and kindness toward others. Resiliency perhaps. I will say, I’ve told parts of my story to many people who were shocked that some of these things were my reality. The only thing I can surmise from those exchanges is that a lot of people have never had a truly messy assed life. They’ve never had to figure out some really difficult and complex things. And because of that, they legit cannot fathom that anyone has lived like “that”. They are shocked. I really hope that in this moment, the people who are deeply confused, scared, and concerned by this current moment can dig deep, can focus on their personal and professional goals, find a focus point to guide them, and ride this out while working to alleviate the human suffering that is ever ongoing and is only going to speed up and become significantly amplified.

I hope I’m wrong about what I think I see on the horizon or how I’m reading this moment but I don’t think I’m too far from reality on this. The last four years have been tests of our systems, of our checks and balances, of how we as the public will respond. If that impeached POS POTUS wins another term, we will be in for the real rollout of cruelties. If he loses, we will face white rage and backlash on a scale not seen since the Civil Rights Movement or maybe even the Civil War. And this time in between now and the election and now and January 21, are going to be days of escalating depravity on the part of this corrupt regime. We need to be ready and braced for what is about to come.

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