The Face of Abuse

It wasn’t my first warning sign, but it was the loudest. In 2010 we were on a road trip driving home from a camping festival. We stopped in my hometown to spend a few days and visit my friends / family. My ex had been cruel to me on this trip, the entire drive there and back. He and his friend who drove with us were treating me like I was worthless (eye rolling, put downs, and annoyed groans when I spoke, they even laughed at me several times). I was extremely desperate for his affection to return, and was confused why he was treating me this way. I was disoriented and humiliated because my friends saw him treating me this way and were asking me questions.

In Kansas City, as we drove by my parents animal clinic on our way to the restaurant where my friends and I had gone to Taco Tuesday for years, he shushed me because he was on a podcast interview (in the front seat in a car full of people). I walked into the restaurant crying and hugged my best friend of many years and told her, “I’m sorry I’m arriving distressed, the guy I’m with was just awful to me in the car”. He was FURIOUS with me for saying that and the entire meal he refused to speak to me. I had gathered a handful of friends to introduce him to. They were very confused why I brought a man who wasn’t even talking to me, but would laugh and joke with the rest of the table.

At the New Hampshire camping festival we attended the week before (Porcupine Freedom Festival), my ex had decided that an attendee of the event was a “narc” or “a fed”. He follow this guy around with a video camera, and asked him a bazillion questions. Thinking he had outted some conspiracy, he went on podcasts and spent literally weeks after the event obsessing about, talking about, and putting energy into this alleged informant. Let me reiterate ZERO actual evidence was had about this poor man being an informant, but my ex became his judge, jury and exucutioner. My ex made a huge scene at the festival and the weeks after. The rest of us had to be quiet and let him have call after call about this person that literally none of us cared about.

After that uncomfortable dinner where my childhood friends decided immediately they did not like my ex, we drove to my activist friend’s bar because she was bartending. My ex and his friend literally sat at the other end of the bar and acted like they didn’t see or know me. I was there alone with my friend bartending, despite the fact that my ex drove there with me in my car! In fact, it was my car that we used for the entire trip. I had too much to drink so I went to my car to lay down in the back seat and wait for my ex to come out. I fell asleep.

When I woke up, someone was shaking the car, beating the car windows and screaming at me. I had no idea what was going on and was terrified. I thought I was being attacked by a stranger. The car alarm went off and I fumbled with the key fob to turn it off while he raged at door. Suddenly I realized it my was ex hitting the windows over and over, and for a moment time stood still as I looked into the face of abuse.

My original art drawn the morning after he attacked the car. This is the face of my abuser. A face I would see many times over the years.

I let him in the car and he proceeded to scream at me. He took the wheel intoxicated and we drove home in extreme conflict. I shouted “how would your mother feel seeing you treat a woman like this”, he shouted back, “don’t bring my mother into this”. And I sobbed, “how would MY MOTHER feel seeing you treat me like this”.

When we parked in front of my friends house where we were staying I told him I couldn’t be with someone who treated me this way. He said OK, he went to bed, and the next morning he rented a car and drove home to Texas. I was devastated. I could not believe he was capable of that and I fully expected him to apologize to me. No apology came. He left. He raged at me, then abandoned me in Missouri. My heart was broken in a way I had never experienced before.

It should have been enough, the Catherine now would never have subjected myself to the poor treatment he gave me on that trip. Catherine now would have never reached back out to such an abusive person. The codependent Catherine couldn’t let go. Codependent Catherine thought it was her own fault. Codependent Catherine was determined to change so he never would feel called to treat her in such a way again.

We broke up for several months. I moved back to Texas to live on a farm and reconnect with the land while I healed from my trauma. I started dating two really wonderful men. I started to feel better. I was happy again. Then one night he showed up drunk at my door at 1 am. How or why I found that romantic is beyond me, but at the time, I did. I stopped seeing the other men, and found myself pregnant within 9 weeks of getting back with him.

And he did treat me that way again. And again. And again. But now I was trapped with a baby in my womb. Nine years later I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (cPTSD) by a licensed clinical therapist in Texas. Many people have heard of PTSD in the context of someone having one large traumatic event – a car wreck, an explosion at war, etc….. For me, it was a series of traumas that added up over time to completely fry and dis-regulate my nervous system. He rewired my brain though abusive action after abusive action. And I had the chance to get away when he showed me his true face, the face of abuse.



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