Update 2/11/2019: This post was originally submitted anonymously, but I now have the author’s permission to share their identity. Credit for this piece goes to Eve Rickert, writer and editor. My thanks for trusting me with this piece in its early days.
Written October 2018
He said he loved me. But he could not love me as a whole person. He had to kill part of me, to love me.
And he did it. I did it for him. Bit by bit, over years, he taught me what it was acceptable to be. What it was acceptable to feel. I amputated feelings that displeased him.
“Conceal, don’t feel.” Don’t be angry. Don’t. ever. be. angry. Anger was the forbidden emotion. The cardinal sin. Anger brought swift punishment: Coldness. Hardness. Withdrawal. Demands for explanation. Demands that I prove it, prove why I had a right to be angry. Reminders of all the times I had done him wrong. Stories of how many people disliked me, mistrusted me (but never why).
He set up a little watchdog in my brain. Policing my feelings. If I started to feel angry, or even hurt at something he’d done, it started asking me all those questions: Why do you feel this? Aren’t you overreacting? Are you trying to control him? What’s the big deal? Can’t you just take it? (take it. take it. take it. take it, bitch. What’s wrong with you?) Why aren’t you stronger? The watchdog would redirect the anger to shame, self-loathing, in a deadly spiral. What’s wrong with me? I would choke. My thoughts would knot in a ball in my head. I could feel the anger in there, somewhere, buried beneath the layers of shame.
Sometimes the anger would find its way out–and then, immediate punishment would come. So the next time, I’d try harder. Hate myself more.
I could make the punishment stop, if I gave in, gave up. I had to apologize. Cry. Beg. Plead with him to come back. And then, oh yes, he’d come back. The switch would flip again: cold to hot. He’d be there for me. Holding me while I sobbed in confusion and despair. He’d be such a good partner: Aren’t you so lucky he’s willing to put up with you? Who else would tolerate someone so difficult? Who else could love you the way he does?
We’d never, ever come back to what I was angry about. After all, I never had a right to be angry to begin with. Did I?
“An anger problem,” he said. A woman’s anger is a problem. I’d explode at nothing, he said–because none of the things I ever tried to tell him were real. Not real, not important, not enough. Nothing. None of it happened. None of it was the real reason. None of it was good enough. “What is this really about?” he’d say. Because if he didn’t agree that something should hurt, then it wasn’t allowed to. If he didn’t think it was worth being angry about, then it wasn’t. And nothing was ever worth it. The problem was me. Always me. me. me. me.
For him, I went to anger management classes. “Women’s healing anger,” was the name of the course. Yes, I wanted to heal my anger. But none of what they taught was acceptable to him. “Take a break,” they said, “walk away,” but he wouldn’t let me. He’d come after me, make me come back, confront me. Explain. “Go by yourself and scream into a pillow,” they said, but he wouldn’t let me. It was abusive to scream, he said. Ever. No matter what, no matter where. Even by yourself.
There is no right way to express a forbidden feeling.
Seven months since it ended. To others, from the outside, I look like a person, but I’m not. I am hollow inside. How can they not see? I sit, and I feel the emptiness. It’s not him that’s gone; it’s me. I amputated the alive parts of me in order to be acceptable to him. When I sit, when I’m quiet, I feel the empty space inside me. My body is a shell. Gutted. Open me up, and there’s nothing there.