There is a situation that I really want to talk about but cannot for legal reasons. It has caused much pain and suffering over the past year and still continues to rumble on. All I can say is that I am confident that the truth will out and ask for everybody’s prayers and compassion, not only for myself, but the other individual involved.
There is however, something I wish to explain, which is deeply personal, but I think perhaps is necessary in order to shed light upon why I may often give the impression of being perhaps disproportionately hurt by some of the various online jostling and may also explain why I may appear overly defensive at times online.
Those who know me in real life, will testify that I am not an aggressive individual in the slightest. Typically English, I’m quite backwards at coming forwards and perhaps one of the reasons why I am struggling a lot in term of managing the practicalities of juggling quite so many balls, is that I’m absolutely useless as asking for help. I feel like I am imposing on others, that assistance in anything is an admission of failure. It’s like I need to be superwoman, run a perfect home, look after the children, manage university work and write the odd commission every now and again. All whilst maintaing a flawless appearance without a hair out of place. In short I suffer from the sin of pride and lack the humility and grace to ask for help and accept it when it is needed. I need to learn to receive and to let others learn to how to give.
Whilst I’m sure that psycho-analysts and social theorists could find all sorts of reasons for my innate perfectionism and need to be a high achiever, there is another factor that comes into play, one that I rarely talk about, that is still raw and that I attempt to block out on a day to day basis and one that I’m still scared to talk about now, just contemplating it is producing hot stinging tears which are splashing onto my shiny laptop. When I was eighteen, I was in a relationship with a 31 year old man. It was a mess. It was coercive and violent. It was my first proper relationship and it scarred me more deeply than perhaps I have realised until recently.
He was volatile and possessive, being acutely aware of the age gap. When we met he had showered me with affection and presents, it was my first adult relationship and I had no idea that this wasn’t normal behaviour. His moods would swing on a tuppence. He was controlling over what I wore, alarm bells should have rung on an early date, when he came to pick me up, we were supposed to be going to a bar to meet his friends and a thick brooding silence overhung in the car. Eventually he said to me “I can’t take you out tonight, you look like a whore, all my friends will be looking down your top at what is mine and they will think you are easy and I will be embarrassed”. Despite my innate sense of injustice, I asked him whether or not my top really was that low-cut as I didn’t think it was. He assured me that it was and that I had spoiled his evening and I should have not been so selfish and thoughtless when getting ready. I replied that I was trying to look “nice” I had no idea that I looked even vaguely tarty, which elicited a slap. I cried, he ranted and raved, I then apologised.
That was really the pattern. The problem was that everyone else, including my parents, had invested so much into this relationship, after all we had been intimate, we HAD to get married, that all of the violence, all of the dysfunction was overlooked. It was blamed upon my being too young, too immature and the general sympathy was with him. We started living together and every time I tried to return home, my mother would phone him up to come and collect me like an errant schoolgirl. All sorts of things would set him off, one problem was that his mother had been a housewife, who prior to the return of her husband would change her dress and freshen up her lipstick. He expected me to do that. He once came home to find me “looking like the swamp monster” which caused another episode. I was on a supposed year out before starting university. He did not want me to go, neither did my parents, they wanted me to get married. I didn’t qualify for a grant. I was trapped. He used to choose what underwear I was to wear before going out to my part-time job, anything fancy would make him suspicious. He used to insist on buying clothes that weren’t my taste at all. He once beat me for not having the courtesy to ask him before switching the fire on when I was cold. I lived on eggshells, anything could set him off and you could guarantee it would be my fault, and he would keep hitting until I said sorry. Like the time he called me ignorant because I was reading a book instead of raptly watching him land a 747 into Hong Kong on Microsoft Flight Simulator. One one occasion he threatened me with a bread knife. One another he threw my car keys down the loo saying “you either leave here in a body bag or not at all”, on another, he physically sat on my chest preventing me from moving. I used to dread the days that he would attempt his give up smoking ritual. Nicotine gum and bags of sweeties would be purchased and he would psyche himself into a foul mood. I had to wait on him hand on foot those days, so delicate was his constitution and his temper. Giving up smoking is a tricky business and he needed to be wrapped in cotton wool and have my full support. Any lapse back to smoking was always my fault for causing the stress.
Eventually I did get out and instantly understood what it meant to be free. But it left deep and lasting scars. My parents blamed my immaturity for the breakdown of the relationship, the violence was brushed under the carpet, downplayed and as an inevitable consequence of my shortcomings, which is what made it so difficult to leave, because I thought that it was my fault and that if I could just adapt a bit better, that things would all come good, that he would stop hitting me.
Why is this relevant? Today, I understood the word “trigger” for the first time. Whilst talking about a specific type of online abuse with another Tweeter, she said “I used to find it very triggering, it reminded me of my grandmother’s rages”. A lightbulb clicked. Over the past few months, Robin has said to me, “I think your past makes you react to the online stuff in a very specific way. You cower, you look frightened, like you used to look in the early days of our relationship”. Which is true. When we were first dating,I was really conflict averse. I couldn’t cope with even minor rows and would cower and flinch, which would make matters worse as understandably Robin was devastated by the signals I was inadvertently giving out, i.e. “please don’t hurt me”.
When the some of the online ranting starts, that is how I feel. It’s particularly hard on Twitter, because the nature of it does not allow for nuance, the medium is very direct and often it seems like question after question after question. The speed of it is dizzying at times and it can be quite disorientating. This is the effect that online ranting and name-calling has. I feel my heart-rate accelerating, my breathing quickening, my hands shaking and I feel sick. Particularly if what is being said consists of invective, but even liberal use of caps for emphasis, comes across as shouting. It has the effect of making me want to hide under the sofa or retreat into my shell, but at the same time defend myself. I don’t cope too well with seeing calumny writ large in front of one. I have difficulty letting what I see as blatant injustices stand. But it might explain why I take things more personally than most. I realised that being subject to this kind of rant, was producing exactly the same kind of reaction that I had when I was in a dysfunctional relationship. Fear, terror and adrenalin. It self-perpetuates, because psychologically a certain name will be associated with a certain reaction, so I’ll find myself shaking before I’ve even seen what’s said.
Today was the first time that I realised that certain people act as triggers that provoke certain reactions, which is not a stress I need at the moment. I’m sure all that adrenalin can’t be good for the baby, so I think I am going to calm it down a little. But I cried like I haven’t cried in years, when the realisation of my reaction hit me and memories suppressed in a dusty little box in my brain came pouring out, scene after scene after scene flashing through my head.
I wouldn’t publish a comment this week, because it berated me for putting personal stuff out on the net and informed me that everybody hated me and that this must be for a reason. I have to stop putting my head above the parapet.
I’ve been considering that. And then reflecting on the psalm reading of last Sunday. I am undoubtedly broken, but then all of us are broken in our own way. Even if we are healed, the scars are still there, no matter how minute. Is it so bad to be broken, to be vulnerable? Look at Christ on the cross, his body contorted, bloodied and broken and yet still compellingly beautiful.
“Oh that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your heart.”
As I said a few months ago, Catholic women need thick skins online. My father used to say to me when I was little that I wore my heart on my sleeve too much, I have to toughen up. I still haven’t managed that. But then neither did Christ who put himself out there, who repeatedly made himself vulnerable for His Father’s Kingdom. Christ did not harden his heart, he knew that there would be those who hated what he had to said, who could not bear it and who wanted rid of him. If we harden our hearts to others then we harden our hearts to Christ. If we retreat into a shell, then we render ourselves unable to receive Him in his fullness and to impart Him to others.
We have to accept ourselves in all our brokeness and vulnerability and through that unite ourselves to Calvary. I am broken and weary. I have seen the most evil and unkind falsehoods written down about me and about others. Lies have been perpetuated and elaborate and bizarre fabrications woven. I desperately want to fight them, to hold this ugliness up to the light, I cannot believe that anyone would behave quite so callously as to calmly lie in order to cause such a devastating impact and attempt to destroy lives. I get so upset because though I have very many flaws, lying is not one of them and neither is shouting or aggression. Which is why I find that kind of behaviour so difficult to understand. I am incredibly frustrated that I am advised that I must remain silent for now. I want to shout the injustice from the rooftops.
I am broken. But I have the support of many many people, the intercession of the saints and of Our Blessed Virgin and above all the comfort of Christ. The other person is broken. Their mind is in torment. They have none of these things. They know only anger, bitterness, rage, scorn, contempt and self-deception. Pray for us both. Miserere nobis.