Preface: I initially didn’t want to talk about trauma more than I had to on this blog. I feel one of the mistakes I made previously was focusing on this, but my writing comes from this place. It comes from the darkness and anger, but also the hope and resilience. If I want people to read and enjoy my writing, and do so from exposure to me on here, I need to be vulnerable. And so I’m going to share a little bit of myself with you. If you would rather come back later for your regular scheduled programming, I respect you. I’ll see you later. – E.S.
I thought it was an urban myth.
My coworkers and I were discussing Facebook. As the conversation went on, it was less a discussion and more of a roast. We were talking about seeing fake plastic tree versions of people’s lives, racist relatives, and creeps.
“‘People you may know’ is the worst,” one said, whilst trying to convince a baby to eat a few more bites of cheerios, “half the time I don’t know these people.”
“I know, right?” I replied, pouring a sugar-coma inducing bowl of lucky charms mixed with honey-nut chex for a barely awake toddler, “or there’s a good reason you’re not friends with them. You thought you knew them, sometimes, but then they turned out to be jerks.”
“And it shows they were creeping your profile. Eww.”
My heart stopped. “What?”
“People appear under ‘people you may know’ because they were recently looking at your profile. It’s creepy. Facebook is creepy.” My coworker shuddered.
“I thought that was a myth,” I said, trying to will myself calm. It had to be. Facebook suggested people based on mutuals, or where you listed you worked, right?
My coworker shrugged. “Maybe. Still weird though.”
“Right,” I said, hands starting to shake enough that half the cereal missed the bowl entirely, “weird.”
I went home, tried to forget about what my coworker said, but I couldn’t. I decided to look it up later, at work, bored out of my skull waiting for my replacement to arrive. My search phrase contained ‘urban myth’ in a desperate attempt to prove myself right. Confirmation bias, my psychology undergrad knowledge helpfully supplied. I sipped lukewarm tap water, slowly, mindfully, like my yoga teacher friend taught me. When I was finished I rested my left hand on the cool wood of the desk. I took deep breaths. I couldn’t be wrong. There was no way. However, like many people using the aforementioned heuristic, I was just deceiving myself. I reached for the trash can, suddenly nauseous. The room spun. My water was a forgotten memory as I tried to remember how to breathe. I couldn’t anchor myself, not to the present moment. I didn’t want to be there.
Zuckerberg, you really are the worst person, and I hope someone sticks a banana in your tailpipe, you robot prick.
It wasn’t an urban myth.
My abusive ex boyfriend and his pathetic worm friends appearing under ‘people you may know’ wasn’t because of our concerning amount of mutuals. He was looking for me. They were looking for me. He was popping up for my friends, people I met long after I graduated, people he’d never met before.
After all this time, I only had one question.
He never promised he’d change.
Learning about interpersonal violence (IPV) later, this was one of the things that struck me the most. I watched documentaries, lots of Oprah, read books, listened to music, poems, everything. Men, women, and non-binary survivors of IPV talked about how their abuser always promised they’d change, that they’d be nicer, wouldn’t hit them anymore, would finally be the person their victim thought they were. These promises were rarely, if ever, kept.
He never promised He’d change. That would mean admitting that he did something wrong. It would mean he’d have to give up his convenient scapegoat, his damaged wreck of a partner with so many issues and neuroticisms who was making it all so much worse than it actually was. Sometimes I try to decipher his thought process. I don’t need to be nicer to [their] friends, [they] need to make better ones, maybe. I don’t need to stop watching p*rn, she needs to calm down. I don’t need to stop flirting with other [girls], [they] need to accept that I have female friends. I don’t need to stop cheating, [they] needs to trust me more.
I don’t need to stop raping [them]. [They] need to stop fighting it.
Sometimes, he would tell me he’d try to do better. “Try” was as good as it was going to get, there was never a guarantee. That would mean I could hold him to something later. Maybe I should have demanded a guarantee, a SMART goal, some way to prove that I wasn’t going around in circles waiting on something that would never, ever happen. Maybe he should have been able to keep his word.
He never promised he’d change. I have no reason to think that he has since.
Psychopaths get a bad rap.
Firstly, it’s not in the DSM or ICD, not really. It’s called “anti-social personality disorder” in the DSM, no mention of the phrase “psychopath” at all. In the ICD it’s a subset of “dissocial personality disorder” (the rest of the world just haaaas to be different). People with this disorder are often characterized as brutally unempathetic, impulsive and unlovable. They can have trouble getting treatment for anything, their diagnosis ASPD included. It should, in my opinion, be more characterized by suffering for the individual with the diagnosis. They live in a world that can be very, very confusing to them, one where they’re told they’re doomed to become a monster. Because it’s diagnosed frequently in correctional institutions, the diagnosis itself can easily become racialized due to unfair representation of certain groups in these facilities.
But you’re not here for a paper.
The reality is that, while many people with the diagnosis of ASPD that labels them a “psychopath” are normal people who want to live a good life, there are some that hurt people because they can, and because they want to. It’s the same with any group—there are bad apples that make everyone else’s life harder.
Case in point: my ex-boyfriend.
Before you say I’m not qualified to make diagnoses, you’re probably right. What I can assess is the observed pattern of behaviours I’ve seen and that has been reported to me. I can also assess the characteristics of our relationship.
We were 14. I thought we were each other’s first relationship, but after all the lies he fed me I question even that. We met at a club at school. We had a lot in common.
We. Yeah, right. It was never a “we”. It was always about him.
I always wondered why what happened to me didn’t fit the cycle of violence. It was all good, or all bad, no honeymoon, no cooling off, all explosions of frustration followed by sucking up for favours. I’d started reading about the cycle during the relationship, and didn’t connect what was happening as IPV because it didn’t follow the cycle. What it did follow was the psychopath relationship cycle (abbreviated henceforth to PRC for ease of reading).
The PRC has three linear stages: idealize, devalue, discard. At first, he was sweet and loving, willing to go along with my plans for our dates, acted like everything I did and said was so smart or so cool. Then he changed. He started putting on the pressure for sexual acts once he realised I was a) raised Catholic and extremely repressed and b) starved for affection from my parents and friends. I was willing to do *some* things, but I wasn’t moving fast enough for him. Eventually, he just took what he wanted.
I was either the best person ever, his soulmate, or I was the biggest problem in his life, a worthless piece of garbage – all his listening earlier, all our long talks, were him gathering intel like a cold war spy that he could use later. If I upset him – and some days, all I had to do to upset him was exist – he’d throw all my insecurities in my face. In public. I never knew what I was going to get. Even on what I thought were good days, he’d say things like “you’re so chubby, it’s adorable!” knowing that I was insecure about my weight. When I wanted to leave, he casually mentioned how easy it would be to kill my dog. When I was happy to stay, he took what he wanted without any input from me. When even the ‘good days’ aren’t good, you start to question everything. Nothing makes sense. You’ve been trained to rely on this manipulator, exactly as they want it, and your identity is free to be remade as they see fit.
Then, after everything, you’re suddenly dropped. You’re nothing. They want nothing more to do with you. The worst part is that, due to their mind games, you still need them. No one else in my life gave me attention or affection—he had me convinced so thoroughly that nobody else, not my parents, not my family, not my friends, cared about me like he did. And if he didn’t care about me, then who did? I didn’t know who I was without him. I had my identity so tangled with his. What was I going to do now, who was I going to become?
Someone awesome, that’s who. A talented (ish) writer. A therapist (someday). A half-decent artist. A good friend. A loving partner. His worst nightmare.
Someone who sees him for who he really is.
I know now that he deals with his insecurities by poking at others, and that he brings other people down out of jealousy. He’s so un-okay with himself that he tries to make himself out to be this avant-garde outsider who can’t be understood by normal people, who looks at the status quo and challenges it. Yeah, right. He can’t even spell status or quo. He thinks he’s much smarter than he actually is, but I think deep down he knows he’s not that bright and is terrified of other people seeing how he really feels about himself in case they agree with him. I mean, I do, but I’m biased. I know he has issues with his own parents. I know nothing I did would have changed what happened, because he’s selfish and cruel.
Is my ex a psychopath? Probably. At the very least, he’s a bully. Is he dangerous? I used to think he wasn’t. Now I don’t know.
I thought he wanted nothing to do with me. Now I find out he’s been creeping on my Facebook, and on my friends. Now I don’t know.
PTSD is a survival mechanism. It is the mind’s way of getting through impossible circumstances. The mind is a really incredible thing.
Once I was out of high school, I didn’t have to see him constantly. I didn’t need to deaden my emotions to get through an average day at school, or be extra vigilant about where he might be, or worry about what I said getting back to him. I guess I expected everything to get better—maybe, a little unconsciously, that the depression and anxiety I’d been diagnosed with were entirely his fault and I’d be cured. Spoiler alert: my brain is just like that, and it turned out I had full blown complex PTSD.
Sometimes, it really do be like that.
I’m okay, really. Now, at least. In university I saw a counsellor, who then referred me to a study where I did exposure therapy, I wrote heavily about it, I tried to help others on my old blog. I told my friends. I told my parents. I told my partner. I told my therapist. Now, I’m telling you. I will not be silenced. now, I’m just ready to move forward.
But I keep deceiving myself. I so desperately want to be cured that I keep telling myself that things don’t remind me of it anymore, when they do. When I don’t know what to expect from people and they get upset I go back into trauma mode. I dissociate. I can’t listen to Maximum the Hormone’s song “What’s Up People”, which is a real shame because that song is a real banger. I can’t listen to Frank Zappa, which is a lot less of a shame because I don’t really like him. I don’t trust anyone, not completely. I’m always waiting for the moment where I’m stabbed in the back.
I keep telling myself I’d be okay if I saw him again. If anyone should be scared, it should be him, because I will eviscerate him (I’d probably just kick him in the nuts or punch him in the stomach, really. I won’t step on cockroaches, I wouldn’t kill him either). But I’m not. I’m not okay when I see him, and I am still scared, because I know I could hurt him very, very badly.
That’s why my privacy settings were strict on Facebook for a long time. I loosened them a bit when I started grad school because I was making lots of friends and they wanted to use Facebook to keep in contact.
I only made it a little less restrictive, and he found me.
I’m not going into full meltdown mode, which is a good sign. I’m just confused, and scared. I don’t want him to know where I work, or where I live, or where my partner does the same. I don’t want him to see that I have a cat now, considering his threats to the dog. He’s not doing well for himself, and he’s addicted to drugs and alcohol. I have nothing but respect and compassion for people who struggle with addictions, and I don’t want to say that they’re dangerous. But my ex is a manipulator with a superiority complex and I have been told he holds a grudge. My friends told their friends and now people know what he is. Someone that insecure, who is already willing to rape and threaten pets, combined with alcohol? I think I have good reason to be cautious.
But what I still don’t understand is why.
“It’s a complex,” my partner said, staring straight ahead at the road home. His jaw was tight, even though his grip on the wheel was loose. Just a drive to the bank and back after work. That’s what we were supposed to be doing, not impromptu counselling. Upon hearing about my ex’s activities, he was just as impressed as I was.
“Huh?” I replied. I’d been staring at my phone, scrolling through a playlist I made specifically for moments like this, entitled “trigger playlist”. My clammy thumb hovered over a rock cover of Destiny’s Child’s “survivor”.
“It’s a complex,” he repeated, nodding a little, “that’s why he’s being a creep.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. I doubted my ex could even spell the word.
“You said he doesn’t like that you tell people, right? Maybe he’s on your Facebook trying to see if you’re posting about him. He’s so concerned with how people see him. It wouldn’t surprise me.”
It was a thought. I remembered noticing him and the collection of bacteria he calls friends popping up in my suggestions around the time of the “me too” movement, or other times when sexual assault was in the news. Admittedly, I felt relieved, but only barely.
“What business is it of his if I do?” I said, anger making my normal baseline low voice higher and sharper. “If he didn’t want to be posted about, he should have thought of that before he made the choice to be a rapist. Play dick games, win dick prizes.”
“As Tatianna would say,” my partner added, a closet Drag Race fan, “choices.”
“Absolutely,” I responded, doing my best Gia Gunn. It didn’t land.
My mind raced, just as much as it had when I first discovered the Facebook fact. What had I posted? What had he seen? What exactly would he do if he found out what I’d written about him? I’d been careful. I’ve never mentioned his name. I stopped using his initials, even, when writing about him, using “R” for rapist instead. I stopped giving half my villains names that start with the same letter as his, though some still looked like him. None of the poems I’d performed where I directly talk about what he did mentioned even the slightest hint to his identity were recorded. I didn’t want to get sued. I don’t want to get sued. The justice system has already failed me by making his crime difficult to prosecute and investigate, and I trust the civil system even less.
I told my partner this. “Isn’t the burden of proof his?” He asked.
It is. Under Canadian Civil Law, the plaintiff (suer) has to prove they have a case, where in a criminal case it is the victim who has to prove that the defendant did something wrong. Still, I didn’t feel much better. I was sick of covering my tracks. I’m sick of being the one who has to be vigilant, who has to change what they do to avoid a court case. It should be the other way around.
“Look at it this way,” my partner said, slowing for a stop sign, “if this is what he’s doing, it means he’s paranoid.”
“He had a list of food he wouldn’t eat because of the 1% chance of kidney stones. I already knew that.”
“It means that he’s never going to rest. He’s so paranoid that you’re telling people about what he did on a public platform that he’s willing to stalk you on the off chance you’ve incriminated him. He’s even gone so far as to stalk your friends. He’s always going to be looking over his shoulder. Even if he won’t admit that what he did was wrong, he’s self-aware enough to know that he could be caught at any moment.” He finished. “It’s psychological torture, and he’s brought it on himself.”
At first, I thought that he was giving the amoeba too much credit. Then, it started to click. He didn’t want me. He was still done with me. He just wanted to protect his own ass. He knows he’s on borrowed time before his crimes catch up with him. He just wants to know how much is left.
It was never about me. It never was. It never would be.
“You’re right,” I said, smiling for the first time since my discovery, “you’re right.” My partner smiled too, happy that I’d admitted that. For once.
I suppose ‘people you may know’ is accurate. I do know him. I know his own worst enemy is himself. It always has been. That’s the price of selfishness.
If you’re reading this, R, I have only one thing to say.
Tick tock, motherfucker.
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