I was my worst abuser. I’m not the only one. We all are our own worst enemy.
Blaming the victim? Oh, don’t talk to me about ‘blaming the victim.’ Been there, done that, got the toxic private journals to prove it. No one has ever been more vicious to me than myself, including Dan, my worst bully in high school.
After my longtime partner dumped me out of the blue and I found myself low-valued in the singles market (over 30, quel dommage), I turned on myself.
We women like to think it’s our unique female cross to bear, that we’re ‘socialized’ to blame ourselves, but I argue it’s human, and if you want to blame socialization, let’s point the finger at American culture, presided over, if you can call it that, by America’s most swaggering self-hater.
I know plenty of self-hating men, including one I suspect is as vicious to himself as I have been to myself in the past.
On the other hand we do love to blame others, who can and will commit cruel, heartless, or just plain thoughtless crimes and misdemeanors against us. Yet we soon turn on ourselves. Women tie their identity and value to their personal relationships; men to their jobs. When women lose a friend or a partner they think, What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I a good enough friend/partner? And when a man loses a job he thinks, Wasn’t I good enough? Why wasn’t I worthy of retention?
When life goes tits-up, as the British like to say, a ‘post-mortem’ on what happened and what went awry is a terrific healing practice, but it can create new trauma.
Every examination into what we might have done otherwise turns into a toxic dance of woulda-shoulda-coulda.
Especially “WHY THE HELL DID YOU HAVE TO WAIT SO LONG TO DO/STOP/START/UNDERSTAND THIS?”
I’ve compared the descent into an abusive relationship as a spiral staircase where one makes decisions, conscious or unconscious, informed or uninformed, giving away a little of one’s power each time until one reaches the bottom where there’s none left.
Within a few years of the partner split, I thought of it as a hole. There were key differences between myself and the woman at the top of the abuse staircase: I was the abuser, not some man. Every goddamn foot deeper I dug, I knew, consciously, I was hurting myself. I was making things worse. I was going through a bad time and saying the most vicious things to myself I’d never tolerate another human being saying to another within earshot. It sounded shamefully brutal when I thought of saying it to any other human being, including my ex, the person I hated most.
I even wondered why I gave myself permission to be so vicious to myself.
“Nicole, you worthless piece of shit, what makes you think a guy like him could ever be into you?”
“This is your fault, you big fat lump of protoplasm! Who can ever love a fat piece of shit like you? You stuff your damn face and then wonder why no one wants to go out with you!” (I was overweight, but no Jabba the Hutt.)
“You are so stupid. You put up with all of Jerry’s alcoholic bullshit and you were dumb enough to take him back! Now you’re over the hill and no one wants you and it’s all your damn fault! Why did you have to pick the Loser of the Pack? What does that say about YOU?”
“Don’t even bother getting out of bed this morning, you stupid bitch. It’s Saturday. What do you have to look forward to except another day of nothing to do and all day to do it? Why can’t you just die? You’re fucking useless. You’re a fucking loser.”
“I hate you. You’re ugly. You’re fat. You’re unlovable. Guys ignore you because they can get better-looking, younger women, you old fat slob. Judging a woman for growing older, for something we all have to do, is men’s fault, but you CAN do something about the rest of you, and you won’t, because you’re lazy and stupid and there’s no point because no man will ever love you again no matter what you do.”
“You worthless piece of shit.”
“You worthless piece of shit.”
“You worthless piece of shit.”
My favorite slam.
I still made plenty of time for man-blaming and man-hating. When I criticize victim feminism (not representative of all feminists) for its misandry, I know whereof I speak. Been that, done that, made all the castration jokes. Just like there’s nothing worse than a reformed alcoholic or smoker, there’s nothing worse than a reformed misandrist.
The difference was, my problems with men weren’t political or feminist, they were personal, served with a heaping side dish of romantic entitlement. But misandry comes from the same toxic spiritual waste pool; the belief others are more responsible for our lives than we are. As we’re fond of saying, the personal is the political. And, vice versa.
I always returned to my favorite scapegoat, the worthless sack of shit calling herself Me. I dug deep down, then dug some more. Sometimes I reminded myself, “Nicole, you’re digging this hole and no one else will pull you out of here. The deeper you dig, the harder and longer it’s going to be to climb out.”
The post-Jerry nadir of my world-class victim-blaming Olympic-level self-abuse marathon is what I think of as the Angry Drunken Bitch Years.
The self-loathing in my old journals appalls me. Now, instead of wanting to beat up on that poor critically wounded woman, alone and rejected, I want to beat the snot out of the vicious bitch who tortured her at every opportunity. Who, when the hurt woman was feeling most down, laced up the spike-toed red-hot steel boots and kicked her some more, just to remind her what a worthless piece of shit she was.
Victim-blaming? No one else has ever blamed me as much as I’ve blamed myself. I’m not alone.
What we shoulda done, or not tolerated in times past, is a new way to torture ourselves once we move into healthier ways of managing our lives and anxieties.
Our own personal Terminator doesn’t like it when we start to heal. It regards personal insight as a direct threat to its existence. In a sick sense, our worst abuser is a trying to protect us against further pain.
I began digging out of the Angry Drunken Bitch hole four years ago, when I embraced Buddhist teachings and listened more to podcasts and YouTube talks than to my Terminator.
Now I think about that poor hurt girl and want to embrace her and tell her it’s okay, rather than kick her with the spiky-toed boots.
The other bitch still exists, but she’s weaker. Still, she likes to get her licks in every now and then. Last year, when I was unemployed and crying, curled up on the couch, getting treated by hiring managers the way I once got treated by single men (and for the same reason — age), the bitch said, “Nicole, you have no marketable skills!”
Now I have the presence of mind to respond, “Huh? No marketable skills after decades in the workforce, with a resume hiring managers once salivated over to realize I was versatile and could move from one damn thing to another I knew little about and get our sales team in the door?”
Just as single people (not just men) often don’t know what they want in a partner, neither do hiring managers or their department heads know what they want, either.
(Hey, nothing is all our fault.)
The toxic bitch was wrong, as usual. Because I’m back to doing what hiring managers think I can’t do: Working with small to medium-sized businesses moving into the initial branding phase of selling their product or service and getting their foot in the door. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a Ph.D. in genetically modified AI-driven cold fusion-powered superwidgets or whatever else I’m flogging at the moment; in fact I only just learned they exist. I’m doing what I do best, and then I move on to the next shift.
The bitch was wrong about me lo those many years ago, but it’s still hard to move on and not woulda-shoulda-coulda myself.
“Nicole, why did you wait so long to realize the only person you can change is yourself?”
“You described yourself years ago as a ‘Pagan with Buddhist leanings’. Why didn’t you just embrace it when you were so unhappy? Why did you reject the antidote?”
“What if you’d lost weight sooner? What if you’d dyed your hair blonde sooner? What if you’d stopped digging in, say, 2009 instead of 2016?”
“How many great guys did you push away because of the Angry Drunken Bitch thing?”
I have to remind myself of the answers.
Because I didn’t know. Because I didn’t believe I had to change myself. Because Buddhism didn’t resonate with me until the third time I read Tara Brach’s book, when I was ready for the message. Because I didn’t believe the antidote would work. Because I hadn’t yet read He’s Just Not That Into You. Initially, it hadn’t even been published yet.
The thumbnail answer encapsulating all of it is:
Because I didn’t know any better.
And sometimes it was because I rejected the answers, or didn’t know what I didn’t know. Sometimes, the information wasn’t even available yet. Like what we know today about the neuroplasticity of the brain. I didn’t know I wasn’t a victim of my own history and experiences and could change my own brain. I can’t blame myself for that.
Even as I castigate myself for not getting healthier sooner I think, “Well, better now than ten or twenty years from now!” I force myself to reflect on all the things I did, the decisions I made, right for me at the time, and if that doesn’t sit so well with my present self then tough shit, Bitch Nicole.
We struggle through every damn day of our lives one day at a time, without ever having a clue what we’re doing.
I beat myself up this past year for not striving harder professionally, getting stuck in a world where I did the same thing for too long, then remembered saying to my brother and sister-in-law, “I made the decision not to climb the corporate ladder. I valued my personal time too much.”
Seems like a 20/20 bad decision when you’re on unemployment benefits and you’re not sure how you’ll survive and you beat yourself up over woulda-shoulda-coulda, but then I consider all the miserable people on LinkedIn posting hopeful positive-thinking memes, or inspiring messages about believing in one’s self and not letting others define you, and I wonder, who are they trying to convince? Me or themselves?
I know everyone suffers from Imposter Syndrome. Someone I once admired I know has been suffering a bad bout of it this past year. None of us believed a pandemic would shut down life as we know it. Yeah, we were warned, but no one believed. We didn’t want to. It seemed silly! Wouldashouldacoulda.
I didn’t climb the corporate ladder, but I traveled because I had the time. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the old folks saying, “Why are you traveling? What will you have to look forward to in your retirement if you go everywhere now?” Uh, staycations because Quebec is a pandemic mess and the U.S. is so bad even Mexico has shut its doors to Americans?
I became a belly dancer and have great tales to tell from those days. I spent my twenties going to medieval re-creation events, flirting outrageously, dancing during feasts, camping during the summer at events with battles, campfires and games. I dated Vikings, bards, samurais. I had a wonderful life.
I read a lot of great books others didn’t have time for.
I published several novels even though almost no one read them.
I immigrated to a new country and live better here than in the now-Ignited States. I have far more friends than when I was an isolated hot mess in Connecticut.
Now I’m learning how to become a personal development consultant and help women, and eventually others, claim or regain the power we give up, give over, and give to others because we don’t know any better.
I still blame the victim. I still beat myself up sometimes. I push the message of taking responsibility for one’s life and people snap, “Don’t blame the victim!” and I’m beginning to understand why. It’s not because I’m blaming them for their traumas, it’s because I point out we have the power to learn from those mistakes, however unconscious, to move forward more fearlessly.
Insight sucks. Did I mention that?
Not everyone’s ready for the message, but for those still crying on the couch as they realize, “The only person I can change is myself,” and get up to take that first power-reclaiming step — those are the folks I believe I can help.
I’m registered to take a course on becoming more assertive. It promises to teach us to learn how others manipulate us, and understand how we hold ourselves back. Most importantly, how we submit to being a victim, something we all need to work on in our finger-pointing, responsibility-abrogating, self-obsessed, self-victimizing culture.
The hell with why I didn’t do what I woulda-shoulda-coulda. We enter this life screaming protest without a road map or a user’s manual. We’re always moving into the future semi-blind.
The past is always much clearer. But fuck the past. The present and the future are what I can also change, besides myself.
I don’t want to waste any more time just because my worst victim-blamer still exists.
Fuck her too.