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Monday, November 21, 2011

I Chose to Trust Myself

I grew up in an abusive household. My dad suffered brain damage when I was in second grade-- a shell-shocked man from work thought he was a communist, and severely beat him into a bipolar psychotic state. Anything small thing could set him off to conduct hours of unusual and brutal physical and mental torture, but I never became angry with him because I felt bad for him.

I used to think that coming to terms with this situation meant forgiving and forgetting, neglecting the importance of identifying the abusive patterns in other parts of my life. I have many stories in the past where relationships have become explosive, and where I've complied to do and say things that made me feel uncomfortable. This happened just two days ago.

I was visiting my male friend of eight years, who moved to Chicago. After a night of clubbing with his friends, we went back to his apartment to crash, in separate rooms, as planned, as we always do. It was that night that he decided to express emotions for me-- I was very sober, but he was drunk at the time. Yet even while sober he is still proclaiming his feelings just as aggressively and intrusively as that night. He kept pulling me, and grabbing me and telling me to shut up when I tried to speak. Being so close (with nothing like this even close to happening in the eight years we knew each other) and with him knowing my past relationships with men, I told myself that he was a friend, and that even if I felt uncomfortable, by definition he was a friend who cared and will never want to hurt me.

Want. Even if no one wants to hurt you, that is no excuse. For a few minutes I sat there frozen, battling the confusing situation in my head, wondering why I was feeling so panicked. I knew I shouldn't say anything because I was inclined to do or say anything to make him stop-- in my father's case, it was admitting to an action I never did, and accepting hours of being beaten with a metal pipe or crammed into a heated oven. I understand that victims will often comply tothe most demeaning requests if only to experience the endpoint, which would be an apology and smiles.

Finally, I shook myself out of my upset state and took control. My words were mechanical, cold and matter-of-fact, but I felt that my instincts had kicked in and pulled together a script that I just had to read. "You know I took that self-defense class. When I'm in a situation of discomfort I'm now ready to react forcefully, and that sometimes means using physical force if necessary. You are making me uncomfortable and I will make you stop."

He backed off a little bit but continued to tell me to shut up and that I didn't know anything. He tried to be self-deprecating and self-pitying about the situation, an action I identified as manipulation --trying to get me to sympathize instead of being angry. I knew I had to leave but he kept saying these things and for a moment I felt that pity again. But once again, I found my voice, stood up firmly, stared straight into his face and said, "NO. I WANT TO GO. NOW."

I didn't get visibly upset until I left. I went home to my other friends who let me cry and vent. This person wants to see me again before I leave back for Pennsylvania but inside of me my initial reaction is no. I need time away from him, and just because we live 700 miles away from each other doesn't mean I have to put myself in yet another uncomfortable situation to make him feel better.

Before I took Prepare (IMPACT in New York City), I had felt this immense sense of panic in similar situations, and as I said, complied to whatever the demands were in that situation, physical to emotional. But that night I realized that the panic I've been feeling my whole life was a natural signal of danger. It was my body and mind telling me to fight, to get somewhere safe, and this time I actually stood up to someone who I trusted with all of my heart, and instead chose to trust myself.

Thank you for helping me get to this point. Please continue helping men, women, and especially children fight for the freedom and safety we all deserve.

Graduate of Prepare (IMPACT in New York City)

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