Under the influence: Speaking out on my experience of emotional abuse by CaitlinWritten by Caitlin Logan
“Whatever. u ignored me. whether u saw id texted or not. u knew i must have. who were you texting at titp or speaking to on the phone cos u pretty much told me u were talking to ppl when u said the reception was bad, and then when u said when u turned your phone on u got text mixed up.
“so who? and dont bullshit me. cos one more lie from you and i swear on my own life i will never speak with you again. is that clear? your on very thin ice.”
This month marked the 10 year anniversary of the end of the worst 18 months of my life. Such a small period of time as to seem almost trivial, inconsequential, and yet the residue lingered in me for years.
My first real relationship was a bad one.
Scrolling through old LiveJournal entries, I came across some messages I had copied over from my then recent ex, one of the few pieces of hard evidence remaining of a once copious collection of digital documentation, now lost to changing technology.
It struck me then for that all my writing, speaking, tweeting on the subject when it relates to other people, I have never written publicly on my own experience of emotional abuse. For the longest time I was scared of poking the bear by discussing it on a public forum. And, eventually, it seemed somehow silly still to care.
Now, it feels like this is a story worth sharing.
“see when ur lonely and have no1 to confide in 100% u just think about how you could have me as a mate but you threw it away, like you threw our relationship away. u make me sick. ok?”
When I first met her, our relationship seemed fine, good even. I was excited by all of our ‘firsts’, and we fast became closer than I felt I’d ever been to another person. But quickly, she became jealous and possessive, accusing me of having “an affair” with my gay, male friend, insisting that I not drink at parties, that I be home by a certain hour, and that I send her long texts every hour, on the hour, when I was with my friends.
Needless to say, this put a major strain on all of my other relationships, and yet it never seemed to be enough. If I reported that I was speaking to my friend’s classmate about music, I was a “whore” and “leading him on”. If I was photographed drinking a Red Bull, it was really alcohol and I was a “liar”.
If, when she checked my MySpace messages (because I had to let her have all my passwords, although she refused to make that arrangement mutual), I had been messaging with my friend’s boyfriend about the book he was writing, I was a “slut”, and I “shouldn’t be having private conversations with other people”.
I was never physically scared of her. And yet I abided by a list of ever-growing and more intrusive demands, seeking desperately to keep her happy and fend off another argument. The fear, though strictly psychological, was palpable. I was scared of her anger, of her rejection (I was destined to end up alone and friendless, according to her), of facing more threats of her suicide.
During our relationship, she told me she attempted suicide more than once, yet I was never allowed to visit and had only her word to go on. It still sounds terrible to question such a story, but by the end, I doubted everything she said. Reality fell on uncertain ground. I grew unsure of whether to believe my own perceptions, or hers.
“dont you think if u meet some1 off the internet, they wont realise u dont actually look like u do in your pictures? your fake, trying to look plastic. what happend to you? you used to be indivudal, but look at you now. the same as a common whore on the sreets. i dont know you. i never have and i dont think i ever want to.”
It wasn’t till years after the relationship ended that I discovered the word “gaslighting”, named for the famous film about a woman whose husband convinces her she is losing her mind. The term described my situation perfectly.
At the height – or depths – of the relationship, I would regularly take online tests for mental illness and personality disorders, at my girlfriend’s bidding. The results were not comforting. She insisted that I needed help; that my problems were the reason for our problems.
Only later, when I retook the tests in a better state of mind and yielded drastically different results, did I fully acknowledge that the reason my responses had seemed so undeniably unstable was because I was being subject to a daily emotional battering-ram which made it impossible not to feel that I was breaking off at the hinges.
“I am disintegrating,” I wrote to one friend at the end of the relationship. I felt like a shadow of myself, a reflection I surveyed as an outsider, unable to give voice to the scream that was shattering through me.
The tipping point when I decided to break things off came when I was faced with new and impossible demands to “make it up to her” after she discovered that two of my friends had climbed through my living room window to escape when she arrived at the door, because she had told me to be in alone by 8pm after going for a drive with them.
The situation sounds utterly farcical, but it wasn’t so funny when I was standing, shaking like a leaf as I answered the door and gave the game away on sight. That was how she made me feel.
And then came the cleanup. My newly reclaimed freedom coincided dangerously with leaving home for the first time and my entry into the student party lifestyle. This was a recipe for self-medication, and at a time when I was just emerging from a period of darkness and struggling to cope, I simply made myself worse.
From being a straight A student, I plummeted to barely passing by my second year of university. I slept my way through the majority of my classes by day, and by night I had more drunken fallouts than a season of Real of Housewives of New York.
Looking back, my spiral must have been partly conceived as a form of rebellion against the straitjacket I had just broken free of, and partly as a way of proving to those around me that I was “back to my old self”- the life and soul of the party, when I was anything but.
Even my attempts at romantic relationships in the years following seemed shaped by that first experience. My self-esteem had been decimated, and I entered into each entanglement from a position of weakness and desperation. I wanted to be loved and I threw myself too hard, too fast into the idea – more than the reality – of the people I believed could provide that.
I took years to reach a point where I felt like I was no longer emotionally affected by the memory of her and how she made me feel – but I got there.
I know that far too many people face similar experiences, and worse, and I know that talking about it is important. And yet, it still feels like taking a leap to speak about experiencing abuse in a same gender relationship and expect it to be understood. Over the years, I have felt the need to validate this experience and my feelings about it, whether because my partner was a woman, or because I never faced physical violence.
In this country, there is a growing appreciation of the impacts of emotional abuse, demonstrated in the introduction of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act which criminalises ‘coercive control’ for the first time. And, there is now a service, called Fearless, which offers support specifically to LGBT people and all men who have experienced domestic abuse in Scotland.
However, I fear there are still too many people who lack the awareness that these experiences do happen, are not uncommon, and should, and must, be taken seriously. Nobody should feel as though this kind of behaviour is normal or should be tolerated.
That’s why I’m speaking up now: because I don’t want another person to look back in ten years and realise they went through this alone because they didn’t know how to define it, or because they didn’t know that anyone could help.
You can contact Fearless on 0131 624 7266 or firstname.lastname@example.org, the LGBT Domestic Abuse helpline on 0300 999 5428, Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234, or, if you identify as a woman, you can find details of your local Women’s Aid here.
Caitlin Logan is our Volunteer Blog Editor. She is a journalist at Scottish news website CommonSpace and is particularly passionate about equalities and human rights. She likes writing (clearly), reading (a lot of young adult books), TV series binges (it’s a hobby when you’re this obsessed), and seeing everything at the cinema that time will allow. Find her on Twitter @_CaitLogan.