On “normal” and a year in chains

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It’s not normal for anyone to wear chains on both arms for a year. But if you put heavy steel chains on your wrists and wear them 24/7, after a while it starts to feel normal. And that’s what I did.

On November 18, 2016, I dug lengths of leftover chain from an old hanging light fixture out of my toolbox and asked my long-suffering boyfriend to use pliers to affix them to my wrists. It was, at first, an homage to the suffragettes of the 20th century who chained themselves to the railings outside Downing Street. It was a peaceful protest, and an artistic act of resistance.

But now they’re normal to me.

They jingle when I move, when I pick up my daughter and bring her to my hip, when I pet my cat, when I write on a desk or turn the steering wheel of my car. The sound no longer registers in my ears. It just is. It’s a part of me.

I flick them back from the wrist joint when I teach yoga, ensuring they don’t inhibit my downward dog. I slip the long sleeves of my shirts between the metal and my arms on cold days. The steel irritates my skin, so hydrocortisone cream and ace bandages are a part of my bedtime routine now. I hardly think about it.

My baby girl likes to play with mommy’s “bracelets” and I contemplate how to explain to her why they exist. I’m grateful for more time to think. People ask about them and my answer has condensed from its early rambling version to a simple “they are a reminder.”

I swapped one link in each bracelet for a carabiner when TSA informed me they wouldn’t let me through security with them on (they totally did), and a security guard at my local police station showed me how to cross my arms in front of my chest so the metal detector wouldn’t beep when I came and went.

Normal.

My chains are not the only thing that have become oddly normal in the last year. It didn’t used to be normal to have a president who would regularly tantrum on social media like a petulant child, but now it is.

It didn’t used to be normal to have an administration that turns over as frequently as a college town Waffle House, but now it is.

It didn’t used to be normal to have to call senators and representatives on a daily basis and beg for them not to make devastating, sweeping changes to crucial aspects of our social structure. But now it is.

These “new normals” are horrifying. We struggle to cling to what is acceptable and real as people in the highest levels of our government gaslight and lie their way through everything single day.

But as I take a moment to consider the new normal in my little life, I have to acknowledge some other “new normals” that aren’t so bad after all.

It didn’t used to be normal for powerful men to experience real-time consequences for their abuse, but it’s becoming so.

It didn’t used to be normal for women to speak out against the injustices we face every day, but it is becoming so.

It didn’t used to be normal for members of America’s most powerful religion to call out those who use their religious platform for their own sinister ends. But we are getting there.

As normal shifts all around us, an entire generation waits with bated breath to see how it will fall out. How will America look to my daughter’s generation? How much more normal will change before the dust settles? It’s tempting to see a lot of this as the end of an era, but maybe it’s just the beginning.

Our country and our world will have so much to recover from when this chaotic, devastating presidency is finally over. The system is that created this tragedy in the first place continues in the forms of voter suppression, racial tension, class warfare, and the way Americans have begun to choose the facts they want, rather than vetting and researching their own information.

Even if our Congress steps up and does something about the forces that are bulldozing our democracy, the fallout will take a long time to clean up.

But we will keep fighting. We will keep resisting. We will keep recording all those little subtle changes happening around us. We will keep re-writing normal in ways that are healthier, more honest, and more transformative.

In the past year, I have gone back to school, first for Women’s and Gender Studies, and then for Journalism. I have begun to write, to tell my story and others’. I’ve become active in my city council’s human rights coalition, begun work on a book about spousal abuse in complimentarian Christianity, and offered my services as a yoga instructor to my university’s LGBT center. The way forward is so much busier and more complex than the addition of an accessory.

We will not get dragged down by those we have elected to serve us. Americans will reclaim our democracy. If we learn to listen to and believe women (particularly women of color), if we find a zero-tolerance policy for assault, pedophilia, and sexism, and if we continue to replace those who abuse their power with representatives who care about their constituents, we can find our way to firmer ground. This I believe.

And in the meantime, here’s to another year in chains, and the lessons it will bring.

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The Nashville Statement is far more than “just words.”

Following the release of the Nashville Statement by the CBMW last month, I offered a few thoughts on the World’s Loudest Social Media Platform.

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I was certainly not the only one to condemn the toxic statement. Immediately after the statement was released, popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans (one of the few Christians I follow) posted an unapologetic denouncement.

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Many stepped forward to share their accounts of the abuse and pain they suffered as LGBTQIA in the Christian church.  And I expounded on how statements such as this one directly lead to homelessness and death among children and teenagers.

It was a busy week.

But in the noise and the chaos of Christians and non-Christians choosing their sides and unfurling their banners, one of my tweets caught a little more attention than I am accustomed to getting.

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Within an day, this tweet had been seen by almost 100,000 people. And many of them, as you can imagine, had real issues with it. Many claimed that LGBT people had declared war on Christianity first, and the church was simply “fighting back.” Others wanted to remind me and everyone else that other religions were “worse.” A few tried to shame me for caring about “words” when people in Houston were drowning.

The general consensus was this: these are just harmless words, and a confirmation of what the church has believed for millenia. I should get over it.

Okay. There is much to be said about the impact and fallout of the Nashville Statement, but let’s start with what has been said already.

Let’s talk about how the Bible has been “clear” about human rights violantions and atrocities in the past.

Let’s talk about how “conversion therapy” – a creation, in its modern form, of American Christianity – kills children.

Let’s talk about how Evangelicalism, which no longer represents Christ, is destroying the faith of millions and forcing division.

Let’s talk about how complicity comes from silence.

Let’s talk about how the signers of the Nashville Statement care more about attacking same-sex couples’ inability to organically procreate than they do about showing love to infertile heterosexual couples. 

Let’s talk about the straight line from “harmless” words to violence.

Let’s talk about how this statement, and Evangelicalism in general, are prompting people to abandon their churches in droves.

Let’s talk about how the compeltely detatched-from-reality “persecution complex” of American Christianty is causing real harm to Christians and non-Christians alike.

I’ll be back in the future to discuss this topic further.

Why I think we need to stop glorifying people who “suffer in silence”


There’s a not-so-subtle implication in our culture that the people who struggle with chronic illness, chronic pain, or major mental health issues are worthy of more respect if they are willing to keep their mouths shut about their experiences. People who talk openly and regularly about painful life experiences are seen as “playing the victim card” and I think this belief is not only toxic but very dangerous to the sufferer. 

Many of us have heard or even said things like “I get that so-and-so is chronically ill, but my friend over here also has that same problem and doesn’t feel the need to talk about it all the time.” Or “I know a lot of people who have experienced what you’re experiencing too, but they don’t post all over Facebook about it the way you do.” These little implications that people who suffer in silence are saintly and people who speak openly about their struggles are attention seeking not only creates greater isolation but contributes to the stigmas that trap millions of people across the country in unnecessary pain.

Even as someone who is very open about her struggles, I have found myself falling into the same trap. Like because I have experienced similar pain and don’t always share Facebook posts about it, someone else should be able to keep their mouth shut too. Without even meaning to, I have communicated the idea that people who suffer quietly are suffering better than those speak openly about their lives.

Are there people in the world who just like attention? Absolutely. For that matter, are each and every one of us capable of using our experiences to get attention? Definitely. It’s part of human nature. But subtly putting down those who talk openly about their pain by glorifying people who stoically – or “heroically” – suffer in silence is only a recipe for disaster. Here’s why.

Teaching people – especially women – that suffering in silence is a sign of maturity keeps them isolated from people and institutions that could actually provide relief. Suffering in silence doesn’t make you a saint. It just makes you alone.

All over the Internet (and all over the country) support groups are popping up for women who experience postpartum depression. That discussion has become much more open, more acceptably mainstream. Now a new mom can join a Facebook group for other women who are experiencing similar struggles and know that they are not alone, that they are not crazy, and that help is available. Not that long ago, brand-new mothers who were taught, either directly or indirectly, that maturity mean stoicism in suffering, would have been isolated and alone, battling demons without any support.

People with chronic illnesses and chronic pain feel this too. I’ve lost track of the number of times a server at a restaurant didn’t take my request for a gluten-free option seriously. I once had a waitress tell me, after poisoning me through casual negligence, that she thought it was “just a fad” and that I “probably wouldn’t even notice” that she had given me the gluten option. This sort of thing happens frequently, and is a direct result of the cultural pressure to suffer in silence. Actual celiac people are taught to keep their mouths shut about our experiences, but women jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon are welcome to be loud about their voluntary diet. Ergo, being “gluten-free” is, unsurprisingly, often still seen as an optional trend. 

“Spoonies” (a term used to describe people with chronic illness who struggle to maintain the resources to get through the day) are often punished in the public sphere for talking “too much” about dramatic mental and physical health issues that impact their lives on a daily basis. Marginalizing groups like this and subtly punishing people for speaking up about their issues has created a taboo out of something that millions of people across the world do not have option to opt out of. “You can suffer every day, just don’t put it in our faces” is the subtext behind criticizing someone for “talking too much” about their illness or pain.

Grief is another big issue on this topic. People experiencing dramatic loss and overwhelming pain as a result of that loss are expected to “get over it” in a certain amount of time. Cutting short the amount of time necessary to work through dramatic loss as not only damaging to a person who is in mourning but also communicates that we as a culture have little patience for people who are not willing to claw their way back to an image of  normalcy and soldier on so the rest of us can feel comfortable scrolling through our Facebook newsfeeds.

Every time I come across a blog, a Facebook group, or even just a circulating meme that normalizes what millions of people experience every day and are expected to hide or mute for others’ comfort, my heart lifts a little bit. I feel that as a culture we are finally beginning to shift into the realization that “toughing it out in silence” is a horribly damaging concept, and that compassion and active listening can bring positive change.

Wallowing generally helps no one. Complaining for the sake of complaining, and digging deep into misery is only only going to cause more harm than good. That’s real. But I’m grateful that as a culture we are finally beginning to see that people who speak openly about their struggles are not necessarily doing so for attention, but perhaps attempting bring to light something that affects them on a daily or hourly basis.


And for those of us who have judged people in the past for being honest and open about the negative aspects of their lives, maybe it’s time to re-check our compassion levels. It’s worth asking ourselves whether or not we are contributing to the stigmatization or isolation of people who truly need help by expecting them to suffer quietly.

So let’s keep talking about it. Let’s keep writing blog posts about what it’s like to live with a struggle, to fight through depression, to exist in a fog, to work through grief, or to keep moving through pain. Let’s normalize the idea that suffering in silence doesn’t make you a saint. And in doing so, let’s continue to create safety for others to step out of isolation and find community and help.

For more information about how suffering in silence can be a damaging decision, here’s a pretty great article on the topic from Psychology Today.

We are addressing this Pence situation all wrong


I know I’m terribly late to the conversation on this one, and honestly, I wasn’t even going to weigh in. Mike Pence admitting recently that he would never meet with another woman without a third person present, or consume alcohol in public without his wife at his side has opened the floodgates for a conversation about gender roles, lust, and the blaming of women for the actions of men. There’s a lot to say on the topic, but I have really only one thought to share today.

Every article, tweet, and news story I have read on the subject asks the question “how does Pence’s personal standard affect the women who need to work with him?” 

I think this is entirely the wrong question. I think we all need to ask: why did Mike Pence apply for and accept a job he cannot fully perform without compromising his personal beliefs?

We all know where Mike Pence stands on issues like abortion or homosexuality, so it probably goes without saying that he would never accept a job at an Planned Parenthood or a support home for LGBT youth who have been abandoned by their parents for being gay. I don’t think it would be a reach to assume that he would think either of those positions went too far against his religious beliefs for him to engage as an effective or responsible employee.

Why then would he apply for the job of second in command of the United States of America, if there is an entire gender of people with whom he cannot interact in a private setting? Why would he take a role that could one day put him in the highest seat in the land, if he couldn’t accept classified or closed door briefings from female advisers?

On a superficial level, this may seem like a non-problem, but what if one day Pence does become POTUS? Are meetings with female ambassadors, female foreign dignitaries, female security council members, female cabinet members, or female United Nations representatives to only be scheduled when another person with equal security clearance is able to be present? What happens when a female member of the joint chiefs needs to disclose important security information for POTUS’ ears only? Is Pence planning to give a random aide the highest security clearance possible so that he will have someone on-hand to be a third-party in every single meeting?

What happens when a female foreign dignitary needs to meet with him in a private setting to discuss extremely sensitive matters between our two countries? A refusal to have such a meeting would be, at best, embarrassing, and at worst, flat-out hostile.

During a job interview, potential employers will often ask what, if any, the potential employee needs with regard to reasonable accommodations. It is understood that if you want a job you must be able to perform the basic functions of the job. If you are unable to perform the job, you won’t be hired. So why then would Pence apply for and accept a job he potentially cannot perform to the fullest extent of the position?

I have a number of married male friends who have implemented the Billy Graham Rule in their marriages. I applaud them for this. I think setting in place boundaries to protect your relationship is valliant and beautiful. But the same men have declined to go into certain fields (such as psychiatry or medicine) that may put them in a situation where, in order to properly perform their job, they would have to interact with a woman in a one-on-one private setting. They understand that with this personal standard they cannot properly fulfill the functions of such a position, and they act accordingly.

Going forward, Mike Pence needs to very seriously consider whether or not he is able or willing to perform all of the functions of every job he seeks. And, if the rumors are true and he has his sights set on the oval for 2020, he should be willing to be honest and admit that he is not capable of upholding his personal religious standard and doing whatever is necessary to perform the responsibilities of POTUS to the fullest extent. To fail to do so is extremely misleading.

For as long as our high-level government positions have the potential for necessary private meetings between two people of opposite genders, and for as long as Mike Pence refuses to participate in such meetings, it’s not unreasonable to say that our VPOTUS needs to find himself a different line of work.

White cis male “allies”: it’s time to get off your asses


Dear white, cisgender men,

The rest of us are so tired. We are not just tired of having to protest every single time our predominately white, male, cisgendered government tries to put something in place that will actually harm us and our children, but we are tired of making sure that you know we are not mad at you for it.

I am tired of coddling your egos, adding the “I know you aren’t like this but…” disclaimer to every single expression of frustration and hurt. I’m tired of watching your faces light up in that perfectly uniform way every single time I reference your particular demographic. That involuntary expression that says “surely you are not talking about me? Me, your friend, your ally, who lets you rant about injustice and even supports you in your protesting endeavors? Not me!”

Yeah, you. Listen up.

Thank you for using your words to be supportive of the actions we are doing. That’s great. Also, it’s time to get off your asses.

I get it, OK. I understand that you have almost nothing to gain or lose by any of the social justice movements that are happening in our world right now. This complacency for this exact reason is not new. In fact, 28 years ago Peggy McIntosh had you pegged when she said “I have met very few men who are truly distressed about systemic, unearned male advantage and conferred dominance.”

And why would you be?

You have nothing to lose, and largely nothing to gain from much of the injustice that is happening on a social level in our country. The idea of making your voice heard in a powerful revolutionary way is not that exciting for you, when you can open literally any history textbook and see yourself represented. You don’t feel silenced or ignored when a dramatically disproportionate majority of heroes in your favorite television shows and movies look just like you. And you sit safe in the knowledge that the men in power in this country will always protect their own interests, which just happen to look exactly like your interests.

I know it may feel difficult, perhaps even unfathomable for you to wrap your head around the fact that you could put in enormous time, effort, and sacrifice to gain rights you do not currently need and end discrimination you do not currently face.

But if I have to listen to one more man who has hit the demographic jackpot whine about how today’s feminists are so independent and they don’t “need you” anymore, I might actually physically scream. Like a pterodactyl. Really loudly. Maybe even in public. I’ll do it. I don’t care.

You want to be needed? You already fucking are. You hold so much power and sway in this country. People in your exact demographic elected this nightmare of a president. People in your exact demographic are currently writing legislation that will actively fuck up my life and the lives of every other woman you know. People in your exact demographic are getting a slap on the wrist – if anything – for actual rape and murder of citizens who do not look like them. 

People in your exact demographic literally hold the keys to the kingdom right now. That. Means. You. Too.

And people in your demographic need to get out of your lazy boy armchairs and start fixing it.

So if you really want to be needed, if you really want to be valued, if you really want to make a difference in this world, get the hell on a picket line.

Stop whining about women who “demoralize” you by insisting on paying for their own dinners, or getting upset when you try to hold the door for them, and actually engage in ways that we need it.

And for the love of God, stop responding to every statement we make about social injustice with: “But I don’t do that!” If you don’t, great. That’s fine. But being not-horrible should not be a goal for your life. Engaging in active, passionate social change should be.

Remember The Lost World: Jurassic Park? Specifically, do you remember the conversation between Julianne Moore and Jeff Goldblum about his – maybe well-intentioned but ultimately lazy – definition of “rescuing”? Here, I’ll refresh your memory:

Moore: If you wanted to rescue me from something, why didn’t you bail me out of that fund raiser at the Museum three weeks ago, like you said you would?

Goldblum: Ah, there’s a slightly different situation.

Moore: Or, why not rescue me from that dinner with your parents that you never showed up for? Or why not rescue me when I really need it; actually be there when you say you will? Look; I love that you rode in here on a white horse. I really do! It’s very touching. Very romantic. I just need you to show up in a cab every once in awhile too!

White male cisgender allies: we love that you want to be needed. It’s very sweet that it matters to you whether or not we are mad at you for the sins of others in your demographic. It’s very sweet that you want to pay for dinner, and that you want to hold the door. But those are not areas in which we need rescuing. 

We are fighting tooth and nail every single day to rescue ourselves from gigantic systems of oppression and injustice, and what we really need from you now, more than anything, is for you to stop making excuses, leave your safe little blanket fort of complacency, pick up a picket sign, and start putting your privilege to some fucking patriotic use.

Love,

Literally Everyone Else

Lies Christians told me to keep me in the Republican Party

Trigger warning: in this article, I am not nice to Christian Republicans, and if my anger is likely to hurt your feelings, you may not want to read this.

I have made no apologies about leaving Christianity in recent months, and I have no intention of going back. I know for a fact that there are good Christians in the world, (and by “good” I mean people who aren’t soaking in luxurious bubble baths while eating bonbons and laughing “let them eat cake” at the parade of impoverished children crossing their television screens). But let’s face it, given the performance of the “moral majority” in recent days, the bar for “decent Christian” is set pretty goddamn low.

I have been stunned as I have begun to distance myself from the toxic and harmful beliefs of people that I truly do care about, and how many lies and falsehoods I was fed as a Christian, which seemed so reasonable at the time, encased in my safe little bubble of religious arrogance.

But one by one, as I have re-engaged my brain, I have come to discover how many of these are not only false, but pretty reprehensible in the light of Jesus’ teachings. Here are a handful.

“Jesus’ teachings applied to individuals, not to bodies of government”

This one is a favorite of certain members of my family, who, when confronted with the reality that Jesus taught socialist principles, feel they are safe in arguing that those principles only apply to individuals interacting with individuals, and not to systems of government. Because our government is made up of robots, apparently? 

Either way, I know the Bible pretty well, and I certainly couldn’t name for you a place where Jesus said “feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter those who seek refuge, and love your neighbor – which, by the way is everybody – EXCEPT in situations where the government is MAKING you do these things. Then you’re off the hook.”

“Jesus would have condemned taxation on this level as theft”

Another important point to my very conservative friends and family members is how completely unfair it is that the government has the right to take money out of their paychecks to pay for things they don’t want. Honestly, I feel that unfairness too. I’m pretty sick of huge chunks of my paycheck going toward wars that we should not be participating in, and government bailouts for giant corporations who refuse to pay their workers a living wage and live like fat cats in the meantime.

But arguing that pennypinching your tax dollars, which go to things like feeding poor children, is the moral thing to do because Jesus would have called it theft is pretty low, even for the GOP.

“Caring for the poor is the responsibility of the church, not of the government”

This one is not necessarily a lie in and of itself, so much as a glaring logical fallacy. Sure, the church was commanded in the Bible to take care of the poor, but nowhere was it instructed to do so to the exclusion of any other organization also helping the poor. And furthermore, the logical fallacy comes when you realize that without government intervention, many Christians just won’t do it.

The implication that if the government would just get out of the church’s way and put money back in Christians’ pockets than they could zoom about like busy little bees doing the good work themselves is just flat false. I don’t know a single far-right Republican who has plans to set aside portions of their income, should their taxes be lowered, in order to funnel toward people who need it. You want your taxes lower so you can keep more of your money for yourself. It’s that simple. 

“Abortion at any stage in geststation is always murder.”

Again, not necessarily a lie (though also not true) so much as dishonest in its framing. I believe that it is okay to believe that life begins at conception. I do not think it’s cool to teach children something that is basically a religious belief as though it was scientific fact. 

Here are some scientific facts: the parts of your brain responsible for making you a person – basically, setting you apart from any other clump of organic matter – do not develop until about halfway through a pregnancy. So if you want to believe that life begins at conception, go for it. But don’t teach your children that this is a fact when in reality it is part of your religious belief system.

“It is moral to use the poor treatment of American veterans as an excuse to not help other demographics”

This one makes me extremely angry, because the way that our country treats veterans is not only appalling but abhorrent. So when I see memes going around on Facebook arguing against raising the minimum-wage because “people flipping burgers should not make more than our service people do” I kind of want to scream. 

Reality check for you: Liberals have been trying to get your party to flow more money into veteran services for very long time, and just because your party isn’t interested in paying service people better doesn’t mean that our party is bad for wanting to be sure children don’t starve. The two are not mutually exclusive.

“If people really want to make a living, they will find a way to do it.”

Even I was guilty of spreading this ridiculous falsehood when I was a Republican Christian. Then I became a single mother, and now hearing people I care about echo this lie just breaks my heart.

The implication that a woman like me, raising a daughter, working two jobs just to pay rent, trying to put myself through school so that my child can have a future outside of this low income hell, should just “find a way” to make the money necessary to pay for health insurance I can’t afford without government help, is disgusting.

The sheer lack of compassion coming from the conservative side of the aisle makes me ill. Your party doesn’t want me to make a living wage working 40 hours a week, wants me to have to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to continue my education and better my future, isn’t interested in offering me childcare services so that I can draw from a broader pool of employment, and expects me to somehow find time for a third job to pay for my child’s health insurance?

“The United States should stop taking in refugees because it needs to focus on its own people first.”

But. You. Don’t.

You don’t care for your own people first. You don’t work to pull hardworking people out of poverty. You don’t care about senior citizens, about young children, about the disabled. You pretend they don’t exist and slam their caretakers for not doing enough to provide for them. 

And at the end of the day, we see right through you. We see how your racism and xenophobia is fueling this fight, and how your own fears are ruling your head and destroying any hope of kindness or generosity. If you were hoping to emulate Jesus, you could not have gone further in the wrong direction.

So, in a nutshell, really quickly, here is my short list of reasons why I have abandoned the Republican Party and will never look back:

– I believe that every parent who is willing to work 40 hours a week should be able to pay their bills on what they make.

– I believe that the lack of a stay-at-home parent in a household should not prevent a low-income person from finding employment.

– I believe that someone who has just found out their child has cancer should be able to survive the ordeal without going bankrupt in the process.

– I believe that the wealthiest 1% in our country should be expected to pull their weight and pour back into the system that allowed them to acquire their wealth in the first place.

– I believe that compassion should always trump fear, and that while our country has the resources to do so, it should keep its borders open to any human being fleeing terror and violence.

– I believe decisions about womens bodies should be made by women. Full stop.

– I do not have a problem, even as someone who scrapes by at the end of every month, contributing my taxes to be sure someone else’s children have food and healthcare. And I cannot fathom how you do not feel the same.

Gaslighting, isolation, and assault: my story of narcissistic abuse.

Content warnings: sexual assualt, rape, isolation abuse, financial abuse

I was married for six years to a man I had been with for two years prior to our wedding. That marriage had a ton of issues, created a ton of trauma, and involved a lot of damage. For reasons that I will save for another post, my ex-husband and I were basically set up for failure, and while leaving that relationship was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, it was also one of the most necessary.

But the next man to walk into my life following my divorce would manage to do more damage in one year than my previous relationship had done in eight.

This is the story, not of my broken marriage, but of the devastating relationship that immediately followed it.

Serial abusers have a pattern to how they acquire their new victims. Each new relationship is generally preceded by a dramatic life overhaul on the part of the abuser, which involves burning any bridges of people who know them “too well,” isolating the new victim, and conditioning them to 1. never interact with anyone who could give them an unflattering perspective on the abuser, and 2. feed them enough lies about those people that if the current victim and the previous one ever had the option to interact, the current victim would truly believe the previous victim to be crazy, evil, or some combination of the two.

The setup was textbook. My abuser built our relationship upon a number of factors: the number of years we have been out of contact and out of each other’s lives following our initial meeting a decade before, and the loyalty that came from our newly reestablished friendship, the fact that both of our marriages imploded at roughly the same time, the reality that I was a brand-new mother, sleep deprived and overwhelmed, and the financial and physical dependence I had on him and members of his family. I was fragile from new motherhood (my daughter was only three weeks old when we left my ex-husband), broken from my divorce, and isolated from friends and family. The only support I had I met through him – again, specifically chosen people he knew would only speak positively about him.

He told me what I would later discover to be outlandish lies about his ex-wife, and, at the same time, lied to her about me, to be sure we were thoroughly pitted against each other and kept apart. Even now, as I have had the privilege of reconnecting with her and sorting through our mutual manipulation, it is devastating to realize the extent to which he deceived us in order to preserve his facade. 

I struggled during that time to determine what I wanted from my faith, and engaged with the church community that he had been a part of for many years. The people there welcomed me, offered me love, financial support, and relationship, but they neglected to warn me about the ugly facts of this man’s past. Mark (a name I have deliberately chosen to avoid giving him any notoriety or future ammunition against me), had committed multiple acts of sexual violence in his previous marriage, and thoroughly manipulated, controlled, and abused his wife until she had no choice but to flee. The handful of the new friends I had in this church community knew the reality of the situation. They had heard confessions of this abuse directly from Mark’s own mouth. 

But the Christian teachings of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness were manipulated by this man, who knew exactly what to say and how to present himself in order to seem remorseful and changed. In the spirit of forgiveness, they welcomed him with open arms, offering him shelter under their roofs and places among their families. They trusted him, and I felt that if they trusted him, there was no reason for me not to.

There were people who might have been willing to tell the truth about what they knew of him, but Mark went well out of his way to be sure that I thought so little of those people that I would never take them seriously should their opinions find their way to me. In the time that we were together, he turned me into a weapon against his ex, selling me his version of an evil, manipulative woman who would do anything to hurt him, and then using my loyalty as a tool to hurt her. She was the enemy, and since she had fled to the opposite end of the state, unable to share her story, I had little reason to believe otherwise. I took up arms on his behalf, and he had no need to personally defame her while he had such a willing foot soldier who would do that dirty work for him. It makes me sick to think about the dishonest gossip I spread about a woman who has not only been gracious to me in our reconciliation, but did in fact try to warn me ahead of time about what he was capable of doing.

The first time he assaulted me, we were in the middle of an intimate encounter when he decided to ask me for something specific. I told him no – that act made me emotionally uncomfortable and caused me physical pain. He used the dramatic difference in our sizes to his advantage and forced me to perform it anyway.

The second time, we began an evening of hanging out with me stating clearly to him that I did not want to be physically intimate. Within an hour he had manipulated and coerced me into “changing my mind” by using his own sadness and needs to make me feel guilty for saying no.

Following both of these encounters, he apologized, putting on a very convincing show of remorse and shame, admitting that what he had done was wrong and disgusting, and asking for my forgiveness.

But in between the acts of physical violence, there was a much more subtle abuse taking place.

Mark had dramatic financial issues, often running himself into a huge amount of debt over frivolous purchases. He was the classic cautionary tale of retail therapy gone wrong. But even in instances of generosity, he had convinced me that gifts were the only language his heart understood.

During this time I was in job training, and had no regular income of my own. I could not reciprocate the lavish gifts he would bestow upon me after he had done something that hurt me. One evening, he made a terribly cutting remark and left me in tears, and I was so terrified of losing him by “reacting badly” to verbal abuse he had committed against me that I actually spent a ridiculous amount of money from my tax return on a gift for him as an apology.

Apologizing and feeling guilty for things that were done to me became a regular occurrence. If I stood up for myself, he would compare me to his ex-wife, who he claimed was “vindictive and emotionally manipulative.” I would apologize. If I called him out on abusive behavior, he would tell me that I was being “unforgiving and unchristian.” I would apologize. If I expressed fear that he was harming me or using me in any way, he would act betrayed by the insinuation, and blame my previous marriage for trauma that he claimed I was “projecting onto him.” I would apologize.

We quickly and easily fell into a pattern that was dramatically one-sided: me running to keep up and anticipate his every whim, making him food, bringing him coffee at work, doing his laundry, bending over backwards to make him happy and walking on eggshells to prevent him from being unsatisfied with me. Him using every fear I had against me in order to keep me in line and trotting along at his heels.

And all the while, we lied.

My church community knew that I had some major issues with the Bible and its rules, and that certain things commonly accepted in Christianity – like extramarital sex being a sin, for example – were not moral hangups for me. They knew we disagreed on those topics, but they loved and accepted me anyway.

Mark, on the other hand, went to great pains to hide where his opinions differed from those of his church. He reframed this dishonesty in terms of “privacy.” I would try to communicate how uncomfortable it made me that I felt like I was being hidden. Privately, beyond closed doors he would tell me that he loved me, that he intended to marry me and be with me forever, that he hoped one day to adopt my daughter. Publicly, he asserted that we were “just friends” and, I would later discover, that I was unstable and attention-seeking, and his friendship with me was one of pity.

For six months we carried out this ruse, him hiding the reality of his life from his church, me dutifully and loyally protecting his reputation and his privacy. It would ruin his life, he said to me, if people in the church knew that we had been sleeping together. He claimed his ex-wife would maliciously use it against him and find ways to punish him if she knew the truth. He claimed his church would tell him he could no longer lead worship or participate in the small groups if they thought he was sinning. His entire life, he insisted, hung on me keeping his privacy intact.

And so I did. Of course I did.

I wouldn’t see until much, much later how this disguise of our “friendship” actually enabled him to play the field behind my back. He once made the mistake of allowing me to see his phone being messaged over and over by a girl from his gym who he had never mentioned to me. When I pressed him, he insisted that they were only friends, but upon further questioning he admitted that they had gone on a date the week before and he had intentionally hidden that fact from me. Months later I would discover they had been sleeping together behind my back. To this day I honestly don’t even know if she realized he was in a relationship.

Around the six month mark, a dramatic shift occurred in our relationship. He pulled away suddenly, distancing himself from me emotionally, refusing to talk to me, and ignoring my pleas for any sort of communication. The only time we would interact was late at night when he would text to ask if he could come over. I would beg him for some sort of explanation, or at the very least, an ultimatum or definition of our relationship. He flat-out refused to give me either. Finally, I asked him for one thing: that when he decided he was done with me, he should say so. “Don’t just let me hang here,” I begged. “Just be direct with me when you have decided that this relationship is over. Have enough respect for me to at least break up with me.” He said he could promise that much. He couldn’t, and in the months that followed I finally grew so devastated and hurt by his neglect of me that, eventually, I was the one to break things off.

My daughter and I, since leaving my ex-husband, had been graciously and generously sheltered by Mark’s mother. She could tell a dramatic change had happened, although she didn’t at the time know the full extent of our relationship. He insisted we keep her in the dark as well, threatening that if she discovered he and I had a romantic relationship, she might evict me and my infant. This sweet woman who had become like a second mother to me and a grandmother to my daughter found me crying in the bathroom one evening. I finally confessed to her, leaving out particular details that Mark had been adamant she should never learn, that not long ago he had been making promises about forever, and now he had abandoned me with no explaination. That night she confessed to me that she knew he was a monster, and sometimes wished that he had never been born. 

Mark’s mother knew – and knows – the truth about him. Unbeknownst to me at the beginning of our relationship, she had sat across from Mark’s ex-wife and heard all the abuses that had been inflicted upon her. Like the other members of our church community, she knew that he had a history of abuse, and she knew that he and I had a close intimate friendship, but she chose to use the excuse of forgiveness not to warn me. My heart breaks when I think of how trapped and controlled she is by him.

At the end of the summer, after my daughter and I left his mother’s house and found our own apartment, I confided to a mutual friend of ours that if Mark were to knock on my door and asked to date me properly – openly, honestly, and without fascade – that I would tell him no. I had finally seen him for the sort of person he was, and I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I felt very free.

Several months later, I began to date Jordan and experience my first truly healthy relationship. All the while, Mark remained on the edges of my social circle, and we ran into each other more than once. We still engaged in the same church community, and I still kept his secrets. Periodically he would text me to “chat” about his new life, his new girlfriends, his promotion, etc. I kept a careful distance, knowing that this behavior was intended to elicit jealous or insecure reactions from me. Then in January, a little more than a year since we first got together, he texted me to ask if we could meet for coffee. Hesitantly, I agreed.

He led the conversation, as he usually does, and unsurprisingly the topic revolved around his romantic life. He wanted me to know how many women he had been with since me, how many relationships he had started and ended since we broke ties six months before. But he made a crucial error in telling his story, and accidentally admitted to me that had been with a number of these women long before our break up. All of the hurt and anger came flooding back as I realized that he had cheated on me.

After a year of suffering in silence and isolation, I finally made the decision to come clean to the leaders of our church. These dear friends, who had shown me so much love, made time in their day to allow me to tell my story and bring the deceit, manipulation, and double life Mark had led to the surface. When he was finally confronted by our pastor about his lies, he chose to abandon the community entirely, yet again burning bridges and severing ties with anyone who knew the truth about him.

The wheel turned. Nothing changed.

I carefully separated myself from him, changing my phone number, and blocking him on social media. I created a safe buffer between us, so that if he or his new significant other wanted to interact with me they would struggle to find a medium through which to do so. I created new space in my life, went back to therapy, and began to heal.

Since his departure from that community and most of the people who now know the extent of his deceit, he has created a brand-new social group. It has been more than a year since the last time I had to speak to him. He has surrounded himself with people who have little or no knowledge of his past, found a new significant other, and weaponized her against me in the exact same way he weaponized me against his previous ex. She fights his battles for him, and recently did hunt me down online to attack me for sharing (what he has undoubtedly told her are) lies about him. To my knowledge, she has no one to tell her the truth. In reality, I can’t even be angry at her. I did much the same to his ex, and if their relationship one day ends, his next victim will do the same to her.

This past Easter, nearly a year ago, he went to his mother and “told her the facts of our relationship.” To this day I have no idea what he could have said to her, but immediately following that conversation she pulled the chute, blocking me on social media, blocking my phone number, and refusing to answer any of my emails. He severed my relationship with a woman who held such an important place in my heart, and I will likely never get the opportunity to tell her my side of the story.

The devastating reality of this story is that it is not an original one, and while the signs are clear and textbook, it is almost impossible to see them while you are in the maelstrom. My hope is that by sharing this tale, I will shed light on the common abusive practices of isolation, forced silence, casual assault, and dramatically lopsided relationship that defines abuse. I know Mark would rather this story never be told. I know his significant other has been conditioned to disbelieve it, and I know the people who are still loyal to him have a desire to discredit it. But I will not be bullied into hiding my story. After a year of psychological, physical, and emotional abuse, he does not have the power to control me anymore.