That was your trigger warning. I'm not sure if this counts as an ASDay post or not. It's aimed at Autistic people, disabled people, and to some extent, anyone who is part of a marginalized group and sees that as an important part of their identity.
I have written about my abusive relationship, and I have more to say in the future. What I have to say today is: I didn't know that an abusive relationship could feel the way mine did. I generally didn't feel scared of my abuser or like I was being hurt; instead, from the beginning of the relationship, I was afraid that I was abusing and hurting her. I saw her as a very weak, vulnerable person who I was obligated to protect, and even when I was really unhappy and wanted out, I didn't see it that way. I saw myself as being stressed because my girlfriend needed more help than I could consistently provide. Or, towards the end, I thought that I just was too disabled, or too selfish, or not disciplined enough, to do everything she needed.
It wasn't until after the relationship ended that I became afraid of her. When we were together, my perception of the world was so absorbed into hers that I didn't realize how little control I had over my choices, how afraid I was of displeasing her, and how little she cared about my well-being. It's pretty scary that her thoughts and opinions became mine, that even disagreeing with her in my head was really difficult; but naturally, I wasn't scared at the time, because I didn't have enough control over my mind to be scared.
A few times I cried uncontrollably for hours; I felt hopeless; I got sick. But I always traced it to sources other than my relationship. The closest I ever got was thinking that really bad things happened because I didn't respond to her the right way, and if I just did it better next time, things would be okay. I could handle her.
To be clear, my ex was also Autistic, and had various other disabilities. Her disabilities played a major role in why I stayed with her and was afraid to question the nature of our relationship. At the time, I had a few rationalizations for it:
- It would be wrong to think that she might be exaggerating or lying about certain needs, or using her disabilities as an excuse for her behavior--even though that was clearly happening sometimes, I refused to consider it.
- I should be loyal to her because she was disabled. It was right for me to stay with her and help her because disabled people should look out for each other.
- If I didn't stay with her, she would be alone because other people didn't understand her disabilities and discriminated against her. She wouldn't get the help she needed, and she might even die. A few times she told me that because I had upset her, she might get institutionalized and they would kill her.
As comforting as it might be to imagine that she was faking or lying about her disabilities, that the person who did this to me wasn't Autistic--well, I knew her well enough to know she definitely is Autistic. I also know that it doesn't matter, that if she wasn't really Autistic, or wasn't really disabled, that wouldn't make this any better.
This is a friendly reminder that marginalized people can be abusive or dangerous just like everyone else; and that some social justice ideas are right most of the time, but have exceptions. You don't have to always agree with someone just because they are marginalized. If someone is obviously lying, you shouldn't just accept it because they are marginalized. Disabled people aren't usually lying about their disabilities or using them as an excuse, but it does happen, and you don't have to put up with it if it's hurting you.
Maybe most importantly, not everyone who shares an experience with you is trustworthy. Making Autistic friends was very important to me and I'm now at a point where most of my close friends are Autistic. That does not mean all Autistic people are my friends or have my back, or that I should have their back. This sounds obvious, but it's a lesson I've had to learn a few times, and I hope (maybe unrealistically) that I'll never have to learn it again.
These are some links I find helpful.
The Pervocracy--"Why does she stay with that jerk?"
Myths About Abusers
Off the Rails by Abbey Wilson--particularly the "Why I Don't Believe in God" series--one, two, three, four, five. Additional warning, this is about being in a cult as well as an abusive relationship. It's very different from my experience but for whatever reason, it was the first thing I read that I related to.
Trigger Warning: Breakfast
I like the writing of Lundy Bancroft (like this for example, and that whole tumblr has a lot of good stuff), but the big warning is that he basically doesn't believe women can abuse men. This is ridiculous and makes me uncomfortable.
Also, if you are in my situation, there might come a point when you should take a break from reading and writing about abuse, even if you think it's a good thing to do. It can upset you and make you paranoid; at least, it can for me. When that happens I make an effort to focus on other subjects for a while.