Written by: Jordan F.
(Editor’s Note: Feminactivist is grateful to have the opportunity to share this heartfelt and very real story. Patriarchal structures hurt men as well as women, even though the suffering of women is greater. Our guest author is wise to recognize the damage done to him by his father’s abuse, and hopefully he will break the pattern of behavior that is probably generational within his family).
A few weekends ago, my girlfriend and I had a heated argument, which resulted in me living in in another city for about a week. This affected me greatly, as I was riddled with anxiety, panic, sadness, and self-loathing. I felt uncertain about my/our future, paranoid of her and others, and crushed by the weight of problems I had no ability to solve on my own. My avoidance of conflict, coupled with a shrinking support system had finally caught up to me. The hope I carried that I could beat my chronic anxiety and depression in silence had rightfully disappeared. I needed help — professional mental health care. This quickly became my priority; I wanted a sound mind more than anything, but I have zero money and no insurance.
So, I asked the only people I thought could help: my parents. My father’s response shocked me.
“No,” he said, followed by silence. Before I could compose a reply (I was in disbelief) he uttered, “Don’t you want to know why? How can I even begin to help you if you don’t believe in a Creator of the universe?”
I said nothing, quietly left his home, and went for a stroll in the neighborhood, shaking out one of the strongest panic attacks I can remember. I called my girlfriend and explained the situation. Despite our disagreements from the previous weekend, she was supportive and recognized I wanted to face my problems. A paradox of thought had sprung in my head – having walked out one door, not knowing if I would return, only to realize I was actually walking out a different door unexpectedly – the door of my adolescent home, the door leading to my real abuser: my father.
In what I can only describe as having a veil lifted from my sight, I immediately began to see him in a different light. All of my struggles with self-hatred, thoughts of self-harm, depression, anxiety, and panicking began to make painful sense. They are all symptoms from the patterns of his abusive actions, going back to my youngest childhood memories. Up until that night, I had been blind to these signs, constantly blaming myself for my own inadequacies, refusing to acknowledge what was right in front of me. I was in denial and didn’t want to accept my Dad had made a life-long habit of being an asshole towards his own son. I wanted to believe he would love me at my weakest and most vulnerable moment.
His refusal to help me find health care was like a door had opened to my past. Repressed memories of being beaten with dowel rods and leather belts had surfaced. My family called it discipline, but these beatings were sometimes arbitrary – such as one instance when I was whipped for ‘not braking soon enough’ at a crosswalk during a childhood bike ride together. In a different example, I was made to watch a video recording of him mocking me for crying over not getting a piece of bubble gum from my parents. Another time, I was backhanded in my stomach for not packing moving boxes correctly. Beyond discipline, his demeanor towards me never seemed to build me up. Before primary school, I was taken on business trips with him. On more than one occasion I was left alone in his hotel room while he made his sales calls. Around the same time, I was forced to say the sinner’s prayer, and – at five years old – tried to come to terms with being hopelessly damned for eternity unless I kept in mind my childhood ‘depravity,’ and the need for salvation – long before I could understand religious doctrines in an intellectual capacity. There are other memories I do not wish to share.
My adult relationship with my father has echoed my childhood. Emotional absence, workaholic behavior, belittling of my weaknesses, shaming of my failures, and a refusal to accept my mental health problems as real have underscored our interactions. I had initially thought working together would bridge what I thought was a communication gap. Instead, it shed light on his true character. There are stories for each, but they go beyond the attention span of a social media post. My feelings for my girlfriend were criticized by him early on, mostly to the tune of “her baggage” and whether or not I wanted to deal with it, like her past was something worthy of shame.
Already having realized his disapproval of my romantic life had become the crux of manipulation tactics meant to drive me back to living at home, I was skeptical I would feel comfortable finding free help in my hometown, supposing it was even available. Not turning up anything in my hometown, I found a clinic in Columbus, which provides counseling and psychiatric care for the uninsured. I have since gone through intake, assessment, a psychiatric evaluation, and set up weekly counseling. I am on the road to recovery, and finally at the beginning of taking back my mind.
Sharing this story is difficult for me. Being honest about my weaknesses is even harder.
Identifying emotionally abusive behavior in relationships can be a slow and confusing process. Those who have taken measures to escape participating in patterns of control describe the task as uncertain, terrifying, and riddled with self-doubt. In leaving these relationships, victims are frozen, fragmented, and afraid. Almost invariably, these same people are empathic, intuitive, and loving in their nature – all wonderful qualities, which create vulnerabilities of which can be taken advantage by unscrupulous marauders prowling for a weak subject. In addition, victims’ willingness to self-sacrifice, and forgive only complicates the process, further blurring an already-vague line separating victimization and personal responsibility. Gaslighting – manipulating a person’s psyche by attacking their sanity – is a common and sinister abuse tactic, which leaves long-lasting effects on a victim’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction.
My present sphere of influence includes many victims of emotional (and physical) abuse. Some are in recovery. Others are in the process of awakening to their suffering. My own girlfriend has Complex PTSD, which reflects almost two decades of covert narcissistic behavior at the hands (and words) of controlling individuals. I have learned valuable insights from her tenacity in fighting to break free from the lies, put-downs, and scare tactics, which used to dominate her reality. Her story (far from finished) is as messy and uncomfortable as it is moving and inspirational. It has challenged me to my very core, as I’ve grown beyond my years in grasping the ugly reality of how abusive individuals infiltrate and maneuver their victims’ minds. Upon committing to her and our relationship, I knew my future would include realizations about myself and my past, but I had no idea the depth of my own trauma and brokenness.
(You can find Jordan’s photography on his site http://www.jordanlynnfreshour.com/ Check out his work!)