Burnt Toast

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Burnt toast seems an odd name for a blog about abusive relationships. For most people, burnt toast merely conjures up an image in their minds of just that . . . a black and crispy, carcinogenic piece of toast, a failure so bad that even butter can’t fix it. They may even have a memory of once in their lives trying to eat a piece of burnt toast. The charred portions of the bread resembling a roasted marshmallow that ended up too roasted. But unlike the overly roasted marshmallow still containing a gooey sweet center, the burnt toast is hard throughout with no sugary or soft middle. No redeeming quality. The memory that comes to mind for me when I hear the phrase “burnt toast,” is not of the food itself but of an incident between me and my abusive ex.

He mockingly called me his sous chef. My duties in the kitchen involved doing what I was told. I mostly chopped and diced and minced. Whatever was required and whatever was barked at me. He liked to cook, especially for those he “loved.” When we first started dating, he cooked for me without complaint. He claimed he enjoyed it. I had a hard time believing that because I rarely enjoyed cooking. I still only enjoy it in small, sporadic bursts. But he had attended a few cooking courses in college and he was a resident doctor, health conscious and fit. So he prided himself in cooking with fresh ingredients. After awhile, however, he began to resent cooking for me. He wanted me to cook for him. He began training me. I learned how to cook his way. Everything was about him. I needed to go exercise with him, not because it was healthy for me, but because he didn’t like going to the gym alone. I hate gyms.

I mean . . . I f*%#ing HATE gyms.

My body image issues and social anxieties are not a good combination for exercising in public. Plus, I think gyms are gross. They stink, smelling of plastic, rubber, socks and the horrifying stench of fighting off death. I never know how to work the equipment and inevitably make an idiot of myself in front of strangers. But I pushed all of that hatred to the back of my mind and reluctantly went to a few gyms with him. I eventually refused to go to any more and after that he blamed me for his weight gain. I was used to an insane metabolism and had lived a life of blind caloric intake, suffering no consequences besides remaining stick thin. I love cheese and wine and bread. So you can imagine how boring it was being a sous chef for someone who didn’t want a lot of cheese in his diet.

While he was “training” me to be his obedient little sous chef, our time in the kitchen together played out much like an episode of Hell’s Kitchen with the head chef going insane, super serious style, like sautéing some asparagus was the equivalent to performing open-heart surgery. Life and death hung in the balance. I once made the mistake of burning some garlic. I know. I was so bad I could burn garlic. He had been exercising like a good little doctor. When he returned, it was to me frantically trying to fan away the smoke. He rushed over after opening a window, glared at me and yelled, “What are you doing?!” He fanned away the smoke and turned to me with a steely gaze, saying, “Not in this house.” I felt like a child being berated by a parent, sorry, Dad, it’ll never happen again.

There are moments in that toxic relationship that I travel back to in my head and play out the scenario differently. The night I burnt toast is one of them. It wasn’t exactly toast, it was more like cut up slices of a French baguette in a toaster oven. Fancy toast. As sous chef, I was in charge of watching the bread and making sure it achieved just the right amount of toastedness. When I saw it was ready to be removed from the oven, I turned around to grab a pair of tongs out of a kitchen drawer. Just as I turned around, he yelled, “Hurry up! It’ll burn!” Shocked and totally taken aback, since nothing about his mood from earlier indicated he would suddenly explode on me over a few slices of bread, I stood frozen with the tongs. I tried to fight back and defensively retorted, “I’m getting the tongs so I can get the bread out, how else do you expect me to get it?” He ignored this tiny bit of logic and yelled, “You turn your back for one second and it burns!”

Flabbergasted, I pulled the bread out and placed the not burnt slices on a plate and left the kitchen. I was confused. What had I done wrong? Everything had been going so smoothly. And then he yelled at me for grabbing something to pull the bread out of the toaster oven. After I thought through what just happened, I returned to the kitchen and asked him, “What the hell was that about?” At first, he went through the usual defense of blaming me for being careless and not paying attention. When I refused to give in to his bullying and threatened to leave, he played the victim card, whining about being yelled at by other doctors at work. He said it was common at his job because people’s lives were on the line. Frustrated, I pointed out the fact that we were not in a hospital and I was not a lowly minion paid to take the abuse of upper staff, but his girlfriend.

The rest of the details about that argument are hazy. In my mind, I fantasize about just leaving the bread in the oven, grabbing my shit, and getting the hell out of there, leaving him with no explanation because he deserved no explanation. But that’s not what happened. I left that apartment so many times and came back so many times. The memories are like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that I don’t care to put together. I do remember agreeing to eat that dinner with him.

Biting into the unburned toast, he laughed and said, “It actually turned out just right!”

 

~Lindsey V.

Shades of Insanity

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“You’re being completely crazy! Have you been taking your medication?!”

This was a regular occurrence for me in a past relationship. If I came across the hint that drug use was becoming an issue for my partner again, or that he was hiding something, I would raise questions about it only to be met with accusations of over-analyzing the situation. I just needed to calm down and make sure I was taking my anti-anxiety medication as prescribed. All those years I really thought I was overreacting, that I was the one with the problem. I was the one prescribed anti-anxiety medication to keep from having panic attacks when I would get upset. I was the one being treated for anxiety, not him, so then I really was crazy!

This was life with a psychopath.

They use their charm and manipulation to get what they want from everyone around them. They mold themselves into the person that they need to portray, in whatever situation they are in, in order to gain control. I had been manipulated to the point that I still question my intuition and sanity today, years after being out of that relationship.
The pain is still so vivid. I question myself daily. I question everyone daily. I question my gut feelings daily. Am I being overly analytical and crazy? Or are these fears normal? Do I have the right to question their activities? Do I have the right to question whether or not they’re telling me the truth? The struggle is real guys, and it’s extremely difficult to overcome. The constant strain on my mind, trying to overcome my own internal struggles, weighs me down and steals my joy. How do we overcome it? How do we take back our lives and the happiness that is so rightfully ours? We can’t depend on other people to make us happy, we have to look to ourselves. Dig deep and discover what makes us happy. Know that if in your gut you sense something is wrong, then your instinct is almost always right.

So, while it’s completely understandable that we suffer from a plethora of mental health issues after years of abuse, we also need to realize that we can’t use them as a crutch. Eventually we need to be able to move on with our lives. Build healthy relationships. Learn to trust again. Learn to live again. Learn to love again. And just in general, learn to be happy. It takes time to heal from emotional scars, sometimes years, and sometimes people never fully heal. Along the way to healing, we need to stay aware and keep in mind all of the red flags that let us know things aren’t healthy and we need to step back and analyze the situation. When looking at your relationship through a different lens, keep in mind these key signs that you could be dating a psychopath:

When you first meet them they shower you with flattery, displays of affection, and declarations of traits that make you both perfect for each other.

They prey on your emotions with stories to make you feel sorry for their past experiences. Whether with an ex, a co-worker, family member, or friend. They are always the victim in every situation of their life. You’ll quickly have a soft spot for them, they’ve used their charm so effectively that they have you hooked.

Now that you’re hooked they begin to create situations purposefully to make you jealous. They begin to surround themselves with people who provide them with added attention. They want you to know that they are wanted by everyone. So you better not slip up because they have plenty of admirers to fall back on.

Eventually you’ll come to the point that you begin to see through their behaviors. You’ll begin to question their activities, you’ll confront them about it and you’ll be met with accusations that you’re crazy. They are master manipulators and will rewrite reality in front of you, turning the situation around, making it appear to be your fault. They condition you to believe that the problem isn’t the abuse itself, but instead your reactions to their abuse.

They will accuse you of feeling emotions that they are intentionally instilling in you. They will call you jealous after blatantly flirting with an ex on social media, for the world to see. They’ll call you needy after ignoring you for days on end. They use your reactions to garner sympathy from other targets, trying to prove how irrational and crazy you are.
You notice that there is always an excuse for everything. They constantly blame others, it’s never their fault. They will spend more time justifying their behavior than improving it.

Eventually you won’t recognize your own feelings. Your natural tendencies for love and compassion have been replaced by uncontrollable panic and anxiety. You may even resort to taking anti-anxiety medication, as I did. You apologize on a regular basis for things you didn’t do and cry more than any other time in your life. After being broken down by an abuser, you will feel crazy, emotionally exhausted, empty, depressed, and worthless. Don’t let it come to that. Pay attention to the signs and get out before they drag you down the gutter.

 

We can’t depend on other people to make us happy, we have to look to ourselves.

 

The signs are there—in every situation, relationship, and circumstance in our lives. Pay attention, take notes, learn to trust your instincts, and know that no one has the right to belittle you, call you names, or beat you (men and women alike). Regardless of what you think your actions were that prompted their bad behavior, they are not a justification for them to hurt you. Abuse is real. Abuse is painful. Abuse is life-wrecking. There are options, there is help for you, and you can be saved. Please reach out to someone today if you can relate to anything in this post. Everyone deserves happiness!

~Christa G.

The Power of Body Language

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I’m an imposter. At least, I feel that way some days. I feel I force confidence. I force self-esteem. I am acting out a character, my smartest, wittiest, and most confident side. The side of me that is not worried about what people think. The side that is confident in her own skin. Her own skin. What a morbid sentiment. As though, if we are not comfortable in our own skin, we must put on the skin of others? Like the tortured and demented Buffalo Bill, working on transforming himself, bringing about his own twisted metamorphosis. Do I really know myself? Am I familiar with my own skin or have I been putting on the skin of others for so long that I no longer recognize my own? Do I know who I am?

Most of my life, aside from the usual rebellious teenager tendencies, I sought out to please people. I strived to fit in with the cool kids in church, learning to style my hair according to their fashion and wear a different, more enviable outfit every service. But there were no kids my age in church, which is where I spent most of my time as an adolescent. I was striving to be like the older girls. Instead, I made a spectacle of myself. Clumsily donning my older sisters’s hand-me-downs, safety-pinning their skirts to fit my tiny stick of a waist. I spent hours curling my straight mousy brown hair and torturing my feet by stuffing my shoe tips with toilet paper. Anxious and insecure, I followed my sister around, unable to represent myself, hanging by her elbow as though my anxiety created an invisible leash. I was the awkward, nerdy little sister trying too hard to fit in with the older crowd. But I wanted them to like me and I was ready to do or say anything just to fit in.

Why did I want these girls to like me? I did not share their enthusiasm for boys or gossip. I read books so avidly that sometimes I would forget to eat. I played the piano for hours. I sat on my bed with my giant word processor, writing my next two-hundred page project, escaping into a world of fantasy in which I was a beautiful heroine with a rapier wit and voluptuous curves, galavanting across an 18th century countryside, stumbling into danger and meeting a handsome man along the way. I sketched for hours, spending weeks on intricately detailed drawings of princesses and queens in their royal robes. My mind was stuck in history and art and music. I did not know how to socialize with anyone in my own time period. I did not know how to live in the present. I wanted to constantly escape into my own world, a world where I was a confident and beautiful woman who knew her own mind.

I recently came across a book called Presence. The author, Amy Cuddy, goes into detail of how we can learn to empower ourselves through the use of “power poses.” To put it simply, her research has found that our body language affects our body chemistry. For instance, when you think of a nervous and shy person, an image of someone trying to shrink away from view may come to mind. They make themselves smaller by slouching inward and hunching their shoulders and tilting their head down. Now imagine what a confident or authoritative figure may look like. They enter a room with shoulders back, head high. More dramatically, imagine them with hands on hips and feet spread wide apart. Positions of power, even in the animal kingdom, involve making yourself as large as possible in order to dominate or control. Cuddy’s research has shown that even in high-stress situations, in which the subject may have feelings of anxiety or nervousness, spending time doing “power poses” causes an automatic response in the body of raising testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, essentially giving us the ability to focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about the outcome. Therefore, allowing us to be present in the moment. One example of a power pose is the “Wonder Woman” pose, hands on hips with legs in a wide stance. It reminds me of the Stanislavski method of acting, play out the body motions of anger or sadness or elation and the emotion will soon follow. Practice these power poses and the feeling of power and confidence will follow.

I never quite fit in with the girls in my church and I never quite fit in with my peers at school. All my life I have struggled with interacting with others. I shied away from parties, further isolating myself from people and all because of my fear of misrepresenting myself, of saying something stupid or making an idiot of myself. When I performed the piano at recitals, my hands and my feet would shake to the point of distracting me from really getting into my performance and technique. In college, when singing opera, I did not own the stage or the floor. I focused too much on the position of my legs and the awkward tilt of my frame or the tremor in my voice. I could never truly do justice to the music because I was too preoccupied with the thoughts of those listening and watching. What were they thinking? Do they like the song? Am I boring them? Do I look funny? Do I sound okay? I never had presence, my thoughts were always too muddied up with anxieties and possible horrible outcomes. Part of me wishes Cuddy had written this book over a decade ago.

Aside from just standing like Wonder Woman, Cuddy also mentions the benefit of performing self-affirmation exercises. And her example of self-affirmation involves identifying your core values. She expounds on the exercise of writing down a list of common core values, such as family and friends, helping others, etc. The importance of these self-affirmation exercises is due to the fact that it helps the individual remember what matters most to her. It reminds us of who we are. When we are sure of ourselves and know our own values, what does the opinion or approval of others really matter? Obviously, acceptance into society is important for our survival. But with this, we are not merely talking about acceptance, we are talking about identity. Once we know who we are then we know who we can identify with. And a huge part of finding a compatible partner is finding someone who shares your values, who can support your goals, your dreams. I did not have this in my previous relationships. Rather, I was persuaded to adopt my boyfriends’ values. I lost my identity because I never had one in the first place.

Regaining my confidence and self-esteem after leaving my verbally abusive relationship was tough. My self-esteem had always struggled and then dissipated even more under the pressure of constant belittling and condescension. I had developed the habit of cowering, of allowing myself to be dominated by another. I became accustomed to shrinking away. No more. I am going to train my brain and my body to be in a position of power. I’m taking back control of my mind. I’m taking back control of my body. I challenge anyone who may be reading this to write down a list of your core values, then write a short paragraph about why these values are so important to you. Finally, and not necessarily in front of a mirror, but I would recommend not in public, pose like Wonder Woman. You might be surprised at how liberated you feel . . . and empowered.

 

~Lindsey V.

Behind the Veil

(Warning: the contents of this post are disturbing and are only meant for mature audiences.)

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines rape as unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will, usually of a female, or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent. When most people think of rape, they imagine a woman being physically assaulted by a stranger. I know I did for the longest time, until through personal experience, I discovered that rape comes in many different packages. As mentioned in one of our previous posts about sexual abuse, RAINN states that approximately four out of five rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. For this very reason, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 68% still being left unreported!

Over the last few years, I’ve shared my story with close friends, and friends of friends, that are going through the agony of trying to leave an abusive spouse or partner. It has come to my attention that in most abusive relationships, sexual abuse is also highly prevalent. The need to control every single aspect in the relationship is a major factor in what drives people to abuse others. So it only makes sense that a physically and verbally abusive spouse would also be prone to rape their partner. Through the power of manipulation and threats the abuser can gain the ability to control their victim.

For instance, being made to feel guilty for not performing sexual acts for a partner is a form of manipulation. Statements such as, “It’s your duty as a wife to have sex with me whenever I want” is the abuser’s way to guilt their partner into doing what they want regardless of the other person’s feelings. I had a partner at one time threaten to find sex elsewhere if I didn’t allow him to do what he wanted, whenever he wanted. It was a devastating statement to hear. He basically claimed that because I didn’t perform often enough in the bedroom, if he cheated on me, it would be my fault. And I believed him! I fully believed that when he cheated on me there was nothing I could do about it because I couldn’t keep up with his sexual desires. This is not normal! It’s sexual abuse and should not be justified simply because you are in a relationship.

I can also recall times in the past to which I would wake up from a dead sleep by my partner coming on to me. When I rolled away out of confusion and asked what was going on, he blamed me. He would say that I was the one that woke him up and started coming on to him first. I would be left trying to figure out how that was possible when I was dead asleep. I realize now that those were just lies to cover up the fact that he was forcing himself on me while I was sleeping. Again, it was just another form of rape or sexual abuse. If you are being forced, made to feel guilty, or threatened into performing sexual acts for a spouse or partner, it is still considered rape and it is not okay.

. . . sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 68% still being left unreported!

Unfortunately, this type of sexual abuse is rarely reported. So I want our readers to know that anytime your partner does not respect your wishes, especially in regards to anything of a sexual nature, this is not acceptable and you need to seek help immediately. You should not feel guilted or shamed into performing sexual acts for someone who loves you. You should not feel obligated or forced to do something that is a way for couples to express their love for one another. Sex in a relationship is a vital part of expressing deep intimacy. It should be an act that is used to display love and affection, not control and manipulation. Remember this the next time someone tries to make you feel obligated to have sex, whether it be on a date or with your significant other. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.

~Christa G.

Washed Away

loy krathong

 

Looking back on the previous year and the great strides my sister and I took in healing from our past abuse, I know that we still have a long way to go. I still harbor so much hatred toward my ex and even more hatred toward hers. There have been times when I admitted I wouldn’t mind if either of them were dead. But these are toxic thoughts that only prove the type of hold these men still have over my happiness and well-being. Instead of fantasizing about all the times I should have left my ex, I should focus on my now loving husband and on living a happy and fulfilling life with those who truly care for me. I should look ahead to the future, instead of dwelling on the past.

There is a beautiful festival in Thailand called Loy Krathong. “Loy” meaning to float and “Krathong” meaning a leaf cup or bowl. Hundreds gather with their small decorated “boats,” they light a candle and incense and send them to drift down a body of water to symbolize letting go of the past to welcome the future. Some will place a personal object onto the krathong, in the act of getting rid of the negative side of oneself, to wash away one’s sins.

This is such an inspiring tradition. Too often has the past dictated my future. I knew there was a reason to my continual destructive relationships. I knew there was something about my past that molded my future. Counseling helped me to let go of those past influences and to see the driving force behind my subconscious desire to be manipulated and controlled. I let go of some of that influence and moved on with my life. And in doing so, I was able to meet my wonderful husband, I quit my miserable job and moved on to a better company with better pay and better support. My life has only moved up since those counseling sessions, since I began letting go of the negative parts of my past.

Since I am human, however, there are times I remember my abuser’s disparaging words. I remember his criticisms. I remember the times I felt my lowest and believed he was right about my worthlessness. I still question if he was right. I still question why anyone would love or respect me. Everyday is a struggle. Memories creep back up and I am constantly battling these moments of self-deprecation. In my head, I know he was wrong. But I hate myself for ever letting him control me and for letting him continue to control my thoughts.

I am going to adopt this tradition for the new year. Instead of not only promising myself to uphold several New Year’s resolutions, I will symbolically celebrate a cleansing of my past.

Too often has the past dictated my future.

There is so much negativity inside me, spreading like a cancer. If I hold onto it, then I am continuing the abuse that I thought I escaped. It will break down every part of me that makes me who I am. It will attack every cell in my body until my body turns against itself.

I’m not going to forgive my ex. I’m not going to forgive my sister’s ex. I’m not going to forgive all of the abusers in the world. They do not deserve forgiveness. But I will forgive myself. And I will stop the echo of abuse in my life. His words have no more hold over me. I will let the memory of all of his wrongdoing float down the river to be washed away. I will see myself for the beautiful and inspiring human being I can be. He has no more power. He has no more control. His influence will dissipate with the flame and the incense. I will see my krathong drift into the horizon, taking with it all the hate and malevolence of his memory.

 

~Lindsey V.