“What do you want for your future?”
“Where do you see yourself in one.. five.. ten years?”
Five years ago, I had no fear when asked the preceding questions; there was not even one second required for me to be able to provide my answer in stunning detail. I had everything planned out in such precision that the atomic clock ran on my time, not the other way around. How does one with such a highly developed internal compass stray from their path and deteriorate into an empty shell that cannot decide what they want for dinner, much less decide where she wants her life to be five years from now? Even more daunting, how does one repair the damage and find her direction again?
I have vague memories in the beginning of my relationship with Kevin where I was still allowed to make my own decisions. However, he began exerting his influence early on, starting with the layout or organization of the apartment. Truthfully, I was not very appreciative of his demands to have things exactly the way he wanted, because the way I had the apartment organized worked just fine for me for well over two years. As with the verbal abuse, the way he took over also came to be by initially trivial acts that increased in severity. The most ridiculous thing that took place initially was how insistent he was at the location of the microwave on the counter. We played tug-of-war with it for a while before I gave in, ridiculously bored with this tediously insignificant thing. This was the first time of thousands (upon thousands) that he called me stupid.
If I had only thought that his ensuing re-arrangement of my apartment was a warning of what he was about to do to me mentally, I would have thought twice. I could have stopped the madness before it started. But no one goes into it automatically seeking to find badness and associating little acts with more heinous characteristics of abuse. Really, the abusers don’t show this side of who they are early on. They wait until they think they have you in a place where they can begin the mind games and reprogramming you into a robot. I have not allowed myself to spend too much time obsessing and fretting about what I could have done differently in the beginning. I feel this is counterproductive and damaging at this point, because I cannot go back and change what has happened. It will do me no good.
The way Kevin slowly erased me began with the microwave, what I was told I liked to eat, the way I cleaned and when, what lights I turned on, when, and for how long. Not wearing makeup, dressing as he told me to, trying to convince me I liked his way better. Then it moved into who I wanted (really was allowed or not allowed to have) as friends. Books. Music. Television and movies. The school I attended online fell victim to him, because he said it was a waste of time (IE, I should also agree with this). The last thing he erased, perhaps the most vocal out of everything, was the use of my Japanese books. Weeks went by where his main tirade would be on the futility of the language and how I made a bad decision when I decided to learn it. “Why that one? Who told your stupid *** that it was a good idea? No one cares about that ****!” He said it was pointless, stupid. After a while, I started to believe him.
What’s really pointless? Planning anything with him in the present was impossible, because he would always find a way to back out or change to what he wanted, regardless of how I felt. Initially, when I pressed back, he did not put up much of a fight. However, once he threw me against the bathroom wall and choked me that September, everything immediately changed. It was understood that I moved from being considered a human being to a possession in his mind. A possession which he could mold, manipulate, or stuff into whatever box he pleased, as long as it suited him. After that point, for some reason, I was expected to become a mind reader and therefore make all my decisions to his liking. This meant becoming Kevin Jr. How so? He liked peppers and onions in everything, so I did, too. He liked certain genres of music, books, movies, television shows, cars… I did, too.
When there were things I did not know and had to ask, especially when we were in the store, he would verbally humiliate me in public in the busiest part of the store. I was directed to just do whatever, and then when we arrived home and started unpacking, I would be screamed at for an hour because I purchased the wrong jarred peppers. It only took me the first time to learn to not talk back. The first time when I asked why he didn’t just answer the question instead of throwing a tantrum and telling me how embarrassing it was to be spoken to the way I spoke to him in the store. Embarrassed by what? Me asking what kind he wanted? First note to self: showing consideration gets you punched in the head. Second note to self: assuming you know what to do without asking gets you punched in the head. Third note to self: don’t bother trying to argue or do the right thing in his eyes. It’s pointless, because he always changes it to make you wrong. And you still get punched in the head.
So now that he rendered my decisions wrong no matter what, even when he himself told me what to do, I was lost. Anything that I had long ago wanted for myself had vanished and was replaced by what he said I wanted. How was I supposed to be able to plan anything, much less determine what he wanted before I could do it? Planning required anticipating his desires. I wasn’t allowed to ask, so I guessed, and everything was always wrong. Wrong movie, or right movie wrong night, wrong restaurant, wrong mall, wrong time.
Also pretty futile when he started running the streets and leaving me waiting for him to come home so we could go out. I learned quickly to not expect him home any time soon. He would disappear for days on end, turn off the phone, and not call me back. He wouldn’t answer texts, and when he came home, I wasn’t supposed to ask him where he had been. I never learned the last part, though. Fourth note to self: interrogating a guilty party about where they were and not dropping it gets you punched in the head.
The only time he did stay home is because he had no money, and he had not yet reached the point of desperation where he would be selling my electronics or tricking women out for free drugs. Then we couldn’t plan anything, because there were no funds available to do anything. Fifth note to self: “allowing” him to spend up all the money on drugs and then being blamed for being the cause we cannot go out and do anything gets you punched in the head.
Eventually you will come to a point where you give up and stop. Decisions go unmade and plans cease to be considered. You just drift and suffer and struggle. You think things are never going to change, so why plan for anything. Why hope for anything, because everything has been taken away from you. That is until the day you have reached your breaking point; you either leave or live a miserable life and die slowly and alone. This was my first decision in several years.
During one of my many conversations with Kerwyn over the following weeks, he asked me what I wanted. I was in shock. Did someone just ask me what I wanted, honestly wanting to hear my response? And I froze. I had no idea how to answer, because I had not been allowed to even consider that thought in over four years. It was the strangest feeling to tell him I did not know how to answer this. Actually, it was devastating to me, because at that moment I realized how much of my vitality, confidence, and direction had been stolen from me, leaving me drifting and damaged. If I could go back to the moment, I would thank him for helping me come to that revelation about myself, no matter how disturbing it was at the time. I was obviously still too close to everything that had just happened with Kevin to even consider that was one of the first things (after getting the stay away order, living arrangements, and spiritual concerns) that needed to be addressed for me to be able to begin healing. If I didn’t come to terms with and fix what needed fixing, my life would be very pitiful and entirely devoid of all things that would help improve its quality and meaning.
So how did I begin to overcome and rise up out of the depths of this incredibly deep valley of indecision? The answer is simpler than you think. I found it wasn’t counseling or rehashing it over and over again that helped me come to terms with how my inability to make choices for myself was going to handicap my life and perpetuate the state of nothingness Kevin cast me into. What I did was this: I forced myself to choose one thing every day until I learned that I would not be punished. Then, one by one, I added another choice, followed by another. I struggled with this for a while, because every time I made a choice, I immediately felt a twinge of guilt. I felt like I was doing something inherently wrong, like a child sneaking cookies out of the jar after her mother emphatically told her not to. I felt selfish when I went shopping over the course of a few months to replace all the clothing I had to leave behind with Kevin in the apartment when I left.
And planning. Well that’s a little tougher for me. This is something I struggle with as a result of my trust being damaged. It’s difficult and painful to be planning things for two people when one of them always goes AWOL and flakes out on you. The only way to whittle away at this distrust is to start by making plans for something small.. like lunch or dinner.. with someone you know to be true to their word. This way the adjustment won’t be so traumatic, because you will be anxious about it working out. Slowly widen out and make plans further and further into the future. For me, both things are still a work in progress. I suppose the damage of four years takes longer to erase than I was allowing. Hey, I never said I was patient with everything… In fact I explicitly remember designating it as a fault!
And what of the three questions posed at the beginning? How would I answer them today? I do have answers to two of them, but Kerwyn will be the first to know.