Who would guess the apparent evidence to left is not at all what it seems? Why would anyone dare suspect that a smile means anything but joy? Who would guess that the heart behind this smile beaming out at you is in fact immersed in torment from being relentlessly pounded, hammered, and assaulted by triggers everywhere she looks? These are not the questions you should be asking yourself as you look at the image and try to get your brain to wrap itself around the fact that this picture, just taken in the middle of despair, is not an image of happiness or anything remotely close. You should be asking yourself is why does she do it and how in the world can she do it so well? And hopefully, if you have come to know me well enough, you should be wondering if this is how I appeared to the outside world when I was being abused by the monster that could have and would have ended up taking my life if I didn’t choose to live. If I didn’t choose to leave.
I am writing this post to make a very important point about how adept we as victims can learn to cover up the torture we are enduring for whatever reason we choose, whether it be out of shame or out of forced compliance or desperation to save ourselves from further torture by the person abusing us. I am writing it as a kind way to reach out to those of you who may misunderstand the reasons behind the why when we as survivors perpetuate the display of the mask. The words here will be about myself and how I feel, because I am not going to assume I have the right and level of knowledge to assert I know why all of us who can’t seem to drop the mask from the facade. For I cannot put words in others’ mouths when I now so detest and despise when it is done for me without my consent.
First, I do have to specify that my mask of feigned joy was not something I bothered to offer up for Kevin’s benefit, and when we were alone, I absolutely refused to give him the blessing of being able to look upon my face with a smile. The best he got from me was the expression to the right. If you have curiosity as to what expression was most often elicited from his presence, you can watch the 20/20 segment I posted about Susan Still and watch her face at two points in the video: when she is being filmed during his verbal tirade and also when her son is being forced to record Ulner Lee’s physical assault later in the video. Truth be told, I used that blank yet desperate stare to irritate him. He hated the blankness, the seeming lack of an emotional response from the hateful words he would hurl at me. It was denying him a pay-off by refusing to let him see just how completely he was devastating me inside. It was one of the few remaining acts of deliberate non-compliance he didn’t force out of me.
When I was in public, whether shackled to him or so infrequently alone, I wore the mask. Paraded it around for everyone to see, not because I wanted things to be comfortable for him. Not because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself and with it the questions anyone would begin to ask if they saw me scowling every second I was with him. I didn’t do this to hide the shame I felt at the torture and humiliating things I was subjected to behind closed doors. For me, it was out of sheer necessity. I did it in desperation to minimize the physical attacks I was subjected to, for if his anger was caused by suspecting that I had let anyone in (on purpose or otherwise) and told them something was going on, the punishments were especially brutal and longer duration that average. With an average of three to four days of enduring physical assaults of varying degrees for the first few years (which changed to six to seven days a week the last two years), I was in enough pain to do almost whatever I needed to afford myself even a minimal amount of protection and “mercy” from him.
Any talent or skill forged from that level of desperation can easily become a permanent fixture of your personality if you are not too careful about keeping it in the appropriate areas of your life. I say this because, while it became an ability of mine at the time solely to provide a measure of safety and respite from constant physical acts of abuse, it no longer serves a purpose but I hold on to it as though if I were to let go, even for a moment, I’d die. I desperately cling to it like it was the only thing I have left to keep my head above water.
For just as we all are, I am a human being. We all have emotions that dwell within our figurative hearts that can run amok from time to time. We all hurt, we all experience different degrees of sadness, hurt, anger, fear, and doubt. Don’t set your eyes upon someone and assume that just because they look pretty, shiny, and happy that they can’t be suffering and inconsolable in their hearts when you see them. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because I smile I don’t have my own battles. And I do. Some days, perhaps, more than my fair share. But this is my war to fight, and I will use whatever coping mechanisms I need to get through it.
If you are someone who is close to someone like me, please keep it in the front of your mind that you may need to give them more patience and mercy, that you may just to extend forgiveness to them time and again, perhaps more often than anyone else you know. Because I have been hurt. Even though I haven’t been broken, I am damaged, and I bear my share of scars and traumas and horrific memories. Given the circumstances, those of us who have been traumatized handle them as best we know how. We aren’t always easy to bear when we are being triggered.
You may not understand the responses to our triggers, you may not know how to handle and tolerate them, but keep in mind when you are enduring this by our side that not only do we have to bear the weight of our own fight against them, we also have to bear the stigma and impatience that others leave at our feet in their lack of understanding. Even though we may be the most difficult at this time to bear, to tolerate, and to endure, we are not doing this as a deliberate act to push anyone away. We are only trying to get through. I am only trying to survive.
I don’t act and speak out of turn or rudely on purpose, and I don’t enjoy the lack of control my triggers leave me with, standing empty-handed and alone. It isn’t that I don’t realize I am difficult to handle because you may not know what to do. So, to compensate, I pull out the mask. I put it on and I parade around in front of you. Not in fear of my life, not to hide from reprisal and punishment, but because I can’t stand the thought to being abandoned. Because although I lived with someone for over four years once upon a time, I was so empty, destroyed, and alone, that I don’t ever want to be left to feel that way again.
I wear it because I don’t want to be a disappointment, after spending four years walking on eggshells, trying my best to do everything I could to not upset the beast. To not set him loose upon me in wanton destruction. Because I want those around me to be comfortable, happy, and at peace. Because I don’t want them to worry. Because I don’t want them to know that on the inside I am seconds away from completely falling apart.