Earlier this week, I told you a secret. And in the telling, everything changed. I felt the pieces of a long-worn mask slowly fall off, revealing the true me underneath. In a companion piece to the one published on Tuesday, I’m writing about this unmasking and the aftermath of domestic violence over at Black Box Warnings.
To all those that took the time to read my story on Tuesday: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You defended me; you supported me; you listened; and I am grateful.
Update: Since publishing this post, Black Box Warnings is no longer a public blog, so here’s the post first published there:
My Original Face
“Society…tells us again and again that we can most be ourselves by acting and looking like someone else, only to leave our original faces behind to turn into ghosts that will inevitably resent and haunt us.” (Lucy Grealy, Anatomy of a Face)
I never thought much about my “original face” until Melanie asked me to write a post about domestic violence. At first, I was taken aback, confused. How could I weigh in on a heavy topic like domestic violence? I agreed anyway, willing to take a backward look into a previous life.
After scheduling the date for the post, Melanie asked if I wanted to remain anonymous. Again, I was struck at the thought. Why would I need to hide my identity? That’s not how I operate. But after some soul-searching, I realized I’ve been “remaining anonymous” for years by never telling my story. I have never linked the words domestic violence to myself, either publicly or in my own mind.
I covered up my original face and I didn’t even know it. The current mask I wear – the one I’d like to peel away – isn’t unattractive; it smiles and reveals secure relationships and happy memories.
But for almost ten years, my original face was marred by tamped-down pain, nearly zero self-worth, and tortured thought patterns. So I put on a mask. Without knowing it, I hid behind it. Even in moments of supposed transparency, the mask remained.
My story is a common one. I married too young and didn’t know the true character of the person I married. In an attempt to come to terms with the years spent with him, I wrote a piece called Light in Vignettes, which details the beginning of my story and was published on Tuesday over at Deliberate Donkey. I had no idea that the telling of this secret, confessing that I suffered under the oppression of domestic violence, would reveal just how deep the mask impaled itself onto my original face.
So today, my story isn’t about the beginning, it’s about the aftermath–the ghosts that still haunt me.
The haunting was most noticeable right after I met and married my new (and amazing) husband. We would argue, as couples often do, but my hot anger would turn cold. I dripped with icy sarcasm and bitter rage. I threw whatever was around—the remote control, a tomato, my shoes.
It was during one of these moments that my original face started to melt the mask I’d carefully painted. As I cleaned up the remnants of the tomato which exploded onto the refrigerator door, I thought, “I am HIM.” I was being careless, thoughtless, angry, and vengeful, just like my ex-husband. I was used to the old ways of fighting, not realizing there was a new way. One that didn’t include violence.
The desire to control haunted me. I planned every minute; spontaneity sent me into a panic. I desperately obsessed over the details and fought anxiety, eventually giving up and ending the need to control by spending days in bed, not-caring the world away, letting the mask swallow me up in a tangle of blankets and sleep.
The haunting continued in small ways. A seemingly insignificant thing, like a violent scene in a movie or TV show, triggered a feeling of despair—a feeling that always haunted me, even when I didn’t acknowledge it. On the screen a couple argued, yelling, hitting. My heart raced, my hands numbed, and I sobbed uncontrollably. I couldn’t talk about the why of it. I didn’t understand that I was seeing it with my original eyes, not my cleverly masked ones.
Resentment haunted me as well. Bitter thoughts hit me like a sucker punch in the gut. I resented the years wasted amidst the oppression of verbal and physical abuse. What was wrong with me? Why did I stay so long? I labored over these questions, wondering why I was so blind. The mask was too heavy; it shrouded everything with a dark haze.
These days, my mask is most noticeable when I start to feel a familiar inferiority. I will meet someone new and wonder if I measure up. I will attempt a challenging task and fear will settle deep in my chest. I hear the words, “You will never be good enough. You are nothing.” On these days, I secure the mask tight with a frozen smile and hope it doesn’t fall off, exposing the “real” me. The me I know I’m not, but sometimes think I am, because for ten years I believed in lies and couldn’t see the truth.
Today I’m coming to terms with my original face. I’m naming what I went through and digging past the memories of verbal and physical abuse.
I am a domestic violence survivor. The mask is off.
I was a victim, but I am not powerless. I was abused, but I am not without hope.
Domestic violence will no longer cover my face with angry scars and color my thoughts with icy-blue lies. Instead, I’ll find the face I was born with, the face that is open, fearless, seeing, and full of light.
If you are enduring domestic violence, I want you to know this one thing: there is hope. You CAN leave; you are strong enough. (Find help here. Or if you feel you have no support, please email me at rachelstable at live dot com.) And if you are a survivor, don’t let the past haunt your future. You are valuable and you, too, can find your original face.