Thursday, 5 December 2013

In the presence of psychopathy

 Nigella Lawson's all too public pains with Charles Saatchi have made some rather unpleasant memories of mine bubble up to the surface, so, much like lancing a boil I am going to write about these unpleasant memories, purge them in the hope it will do me and whoever may choose to read it, some form of good.

I hope you are sitting comfortably now, as you may not be so comfortable later on in this post.

These memories have been partially buried for some 3 1/2 years. I have a feeling this is going to hurt. I have never really spoken to anyone explicitly about these events, not friends, family or even my CBT counsellor. See, I am fudging already, delaying the exposure, fighting the memories. So, let's crack on.

I was in a relationship with a man about three and a half years ago, for a grand total of 18 months. He was a friend of a friend who lived on my street, also living on the same street. It is a blessing it was so relatively short, as he was a relentless bully, an ego centric and controlling. These characteristics gradually revealed themselves over the 18 months and these two incidents I will narrate illustrate this, I hope, with great clarity. 

The Epitome of Awkward

I'm guessing it was about three Christmas breaks ago now, but I am not entirely sure, that I drove down to his mother's house with him. I had never met or even spoken to his mother before, although she seemed to phone him daily.  It was not an onerous drive, as it was only to Northamptonshire, nevertheless I was as apprehensive as you might expect. 

We arrived and I walked in with him nervously. She greated her son warmly, turned to me and asked, "And you are?" 
Now, she wasn't being rude, she genuinely didn't know who I was.  I'd been her son's partner for about a year, yet she knew nothing about me.

I blushed, smiled awkwardly and introduced myself.  She really was a lovely woman, even whilst I was there, he often spoke to her with contempt in his voice.  I found that wearing and worrying .

The time came to go to bed, we slept in his old bedroom, cramped, full of old computer games (he worked in IT) and the room was dark and dingy, probably unchanged since he was a teenager.  There were twin beds.  I was tired from the drive and 'being good' in the presence of his poor behaviour towards his mother and climbed into bed. 

The bed had a huge, thick, feather duvet on. I am allergic to feathers, I had no anti-histamines with me so it was not long before I began sneezing constantly, and soon began wheezing like Darth Vader.  I blew my snotty nose.

"Shut up." he said sharply.
"But I'm..." I attempted to explain the allergy problem, he cut in.
"Shut UP!" with a more aggressive tone in his voice.
I attempt again to explain, "I'm a...."
"STOP IT AND SHUT UP" he cut in again.

I lie in my bed, trying to keep control of my breathing. Miserable, trapped, and fearful I lay still, working out what I can do.  I just want to leave. I take some time to work up the courage to do something, knowing he is angry. I need to leave.

Slowly and carefully I climb out of bed, taking great care not to make much noise. Finding my mobile phone for light, I move towards my clothes to get dressed, then find my bag and other belongings so I can just leave. It is the dead of night.

He lunged out of bed, turned that light on and grabbed my wrists, swinging me about the room, shouting at me (I cannot remember what was said). I think I rasp a, "Let go of me." and he does.

I remember him saying something absurd like, "I thought you were doing it for attention." At no point did the fact that I was genuinely unwell cross his mind.  Somehow I eventually manage to tell him I am unwell. He is later apologetic, not that I believed him. 

We complete the stay with his mother; I remain there out of nothing more simple than fear.  I don't really tell anyone about this afterwards due to deep, deep shame. 

It took me another 6 months and a much more frightening episode before I did, combined with repetitively asking myself the following questions, often:
Am I happy?
Does he or can he make me happy?
Is it going to get any better?
The answer was always, "No" to these questions.

The night being a teacher probably saved my life

It was now the August after that Christmas and during the summer holiday I had become increasingly intolerant of his unreasonable behaviour. For example, once we had a row over me buying electricity for him at the local Co-Op, which is on his route home from the local train station, but for some reason it was my responsibilty to go and get it and pay for it. I had refused on several occasions. He shouted at me that I had, "Denied him a basic human right."  I think that occured the same day this awful night happened.

For a while I had been trying to tell him I was unhappy, he was not listening. I wanted out and my only tac tic left was texting. I can't remember what I did text, but I know I had to keep repeating myself about the relationship being poor, and things needed to change. He would bat things back, not listening, blaming me for things, telling me that, "If we wanted to go out (we never did) I would have to pay." (I earned more than him) and that he, "Couldn't trust me to behave myself if we went out." 

So, like a dog with a bone I wouldn't let go. I kept trying to make myself heard; to make him bloody well listen to me. It was nearing 11 pm at night at this point. He eventually sent some kind of threatening text back, I bit back and texted something I knew would antagonise him. I did not realise quite how much though; I just wanted an excuse, a concrete reason that he could see that things were over.

A succession of loud bangs at my door shocked me, but I knew it was him (he only lives, yes present tense, 4 doors away) so I opened the door. 

"Stop sending me these petulant texts, or, or...." he bellowed at me.
With the defiance of a truculant teenager I respond with, "Or what?"

Rabid, he lunged at me through my door and before I knew it I was pinned to my sofa with his arm just below my throat, his red, fury filled face inches from mine his left hand, coiled ready and poised in a fist inches from my face. 

I don't scream, but without shouting, well I hardly need to, he's close enough, I tell him to (sorry mum), "Fuck. Off."

I am still pinned to the sofa, his rabid face inches from mine, his fist coiled, quivering, and ready.

Spitting the words as if they were venom, he rasps, "Tell me to fuck off again and I'll beat the shit out of you." 
I believe him. He was not in control of himself. 

"I'll phone the police." I say in an all things considered, a relatively calm way. 

I glance helplessly across my room to where my phone is; making that last comment to him seem almost ridiculous. The front door is wide open, the houses across the street are in darkness, there is no sound of anyone walking down the street. I am alone with him and his rage. 

That doesn't seem to worry him, he once again spits and rasps, "Phone the police and I'll beat the shit out of you." (He was not overly creative in his use of threats)

Here I rely on the teacher's good old, "stuck record" approach and repeatedly tell him to, "Get off me."  

At no point in this exchange did I shout or scream, my tone was level, my pulse rate quicker than normal, but under control.   I think you learn, when faced with anger, and I have done with pupils, the only course of action is to be the opposite. It was like walking a tight rope with a pool of aggressive alligators underneath. Lose your balance, one foot out of place and a bloody messwould be the result of that minor error. 

Eventually, his grip loosens, he stood up and I am released.  I tell him to leave the house and collect his things in the morning. (We didn't live together, but he had lots of things around my house). He refuses, insists on getting things from my house now.  So he does, in a sulk as if he is the wounded party. 

I sit out in the cold on the steps of my tiny garden chain smoking and trying to breathe. I must keep calm still, must stay in control until he leaves. He does, eventually, but he still has my house key.

I don't phone my family, it is late at night and typically of me, I don't want to worry, them, well that and the deep, abiding, excrutiating shame that this has happened at all. What I do do, is go on Facebook (that was when I was addicted to that, my pre-Twitter addiction days) and do a quick summary of the episode as a status up-date finishing with the word, "Single."

It is here the adrenaline kicked in, so still not comprehending what has just happened. My dear, beloved friend Anthony chatted to me on Facebook then rang me up, talking to me to calm me down, making sure I was OK. I was so pumped full of adrenaline, I said I was.  I wasn't was I? How could I be? Damn my stoicism.

It was about 1am when I felt calm enough to go to bed, not that I slept. The whole horrible episode kept replaying in my head, over and over, combined with the gratitude that I was not in fact beaten to a pulp, in hospital, being fed though a tube.  Or dead. 

It was only much later that I can acknowedge to myself, nevermind anyone else, how terrified I was that night.  However, as well as the fear, I had the relief that I was 'free' from his clutches. Well, nearly free. He still lives on my street. I see him from time to time and he attempts to be friendly and say, "Hello." I blank him. 

Why have I not really spoken to anyone about this before?
It is still there, that deep, abiding shame that you allowed yourself to be bullied, coerced and terrorised in a relationship. Do I have trust issues? You bet your bottom dollar I do. I just, hope, I really do, that this can be overcome, although I think it would mean a future suitor (you ARE out there aren't you?) would need a massive heart, and the patience of a saint to take down the walls I have built brick, by brick, by brick. 

N.B. Thanks to wonderful friends, my locks were changed within a day of that incident happening, although it did take me some weeks before I could get some sleep in my own house.

Friday 6th December 2013

I published this post last night and I am stunned at the number of people who read it, the supportive tweets and words such as 'brave' and 'inspirational' used to describe me, and the writing about this event. More than once I have been moved to tears by these responses. Here are some: 


And from Facebook...the ones from my family made me sob. 

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