No one else is harming me, but I’m a master at hurting myself. Here’s five facts about the abuser in my head, and how I quiet it down.
Independent and energetic, outgoing and bold, I seem to be a study in female empowerment.
To look at me, you’d never guess that I’m in an abusive relationship. 1 Not with my husband – he’s a sweetheart – but with myself.
I was once 2a high master of self-abuse. Maybe it’s because I chugged all the insults the little effers on the playground spewed at me. 3 Maybe it’s because I internalized so many messages about what was wrong with my body from giant Gap ads and thin-slinging billboards across NYC. Whatever the cause, when I was still a very small Coffey, those messages started to come at me from inside my own head – ostensibly in my own voice – inspiring some serious self-harm.
1- I hurt myself.
Before I stopped making decisions in desperate efforts to change 4 and started just trying to take care of my body, my self abuse took make forms. I’d make myself crazy calorie-restricted diets. I injured myself doing stupid exercises in stupid ways. One could argue that my decision to have weight loss surgery was an extreme example of me playing the abuser. 5
I don’t hurt myself today. At worst, I subject myself to nagging, low-level discomfort, sort of like I’m a gnat flying around just inside my own ear.
2- I talk trash.
No one has ever been as mean to me as I’ve been to myself. The worst bullies from my childhood might as well have been singing nursery rhymes compared to some of the crap I’ve said to myself while brushing my teeth in the morning. My abuser’s Greatest Hits include “You’re worthless and so are your stupid ideas.” “Quit the ‘this time’s gonna be different’ shit. You KNOW you’re gonna fail.” “Who the hell do you think you’re kidding?” “You’re pitiful. All you do is embarrass yourself.”
When the abuser weighs in today, it’s decidedly less harsh. Blame my wierdly healthy, modern, yuppie lifestyle, but sometimes I’ll go weeks without hearing much worse than “Maybe if you drove a Prius people would think you were less of a bitch.”
3- I hit “Repeat.”
I have a lifetime of memories to choose from, but when the abuser is at the mic, I see replay after replay of only my most painful, most shame-inspiring memories. Today, if I get stuck in a pattern of old, unhealthy behaviors, 6 I know I run the risk of getting stuck in an abusive memory loop. One more reason to take loving care of myself (not that I needed another one, thank you very much).
4- I hide the truth.
Historically, when I was abusing myself, 7 no one knew. Maybe I liked people thinking I had it together. Maybe I feared what folks would think or say if they knew the truth. More likely, I was so wrapped up in the hurt and the stories in my head that I hardly even noticed the people around me, let alone wanted to chat. By now I know that keeping the fact of my abuse from others gives the abuser power. When I reach out and share the truth of what I’m experiencing, it cuts that harmful power in half.
5- I keep going back.
This is the kicker. Eleven years I’ve spent learning to love myself and my past, learning how to live so I enjoy keeping myself healthy. 8 And yet, when something goes wrong – say, a mean comment on my blog or a few nights of lost sleep – the abuser can still snap to attention. 9 Today I recognize the abusive voice (and the things it urges me to do) as a warning siren: “Attention: something is off. I need more sleep/sunshine/time at the gym/sex/alone time with friends/time watching Louis CK & Oatmeal cartoons, STAT.”
Back in the day, hurting myself was status quo. I mistakenly thought the abuser was right, and that my body, my feelings, my opinions, my needs, that all of me was ugly, or wrong, or just plain stupid. I walked through much of my life thinking that hateful voice was my own, and I let it control me.
But that voice was not my voice. My voice is sweet and deep. 10 It encourages me to eat when I’m hungry, to sleep when I’m tired, and to dance like a lunatic in my living room 11 when I’ve got tons of energy and nowhere else to put it. When it yells at me, and it sometimes does, it’s almost always through a smile.
Today, the abuser lies mostly dormant, having been crowded out by the many things I do to stay well. But unless I stay committed to treating myself well each and every day, I have no doubt the abuser will dust off her jacket and get right back behind the curtain in my head.
Self-abuse may be my default, 12 but rather than roll over and submit, I let that fact be my primary motivator. I have no reasonable choice, if I want to be happy, than to to do loving things for myself on purpose, consistently, and with all the enthusiasm I can muster.
I lived too many years in the shadow of abuse, and Holy Hellfire, Batman, I want better in this life. I demand better. I will do what I can every day to make it so.
I will continue my campaign to snuff out the abuser. Until then, when she pops up, I’ll try to remember to greet her with a knowing and vaguely amused ‘Jesus Christ, not you again.’
Thanks to Lynne Marie Wannamaker, trainer & self-defense rock star, hard at work to put a stop to domestic violence.
- I’m writing here for maximum impact. Domestic abuse is very real and not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is available now. Call (800) 799-7233. ↩
- and, at times fewer and further between, still am ↩
- Of course, ’cause I’m all mindfulness-and-light in my current life, I’ve cultivated love and compassion for the hurtin’ units those little effers must have been. ↩
- How I looked, how I was feeling, how people perceived me, how much misery I could tolerate… ↩
- I’m truly happy with my life today, and so I’m grateful for everything about my past – everything that got me to this point. My choice to have Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery in 2003 is part of that past. Weight loss surgery can be a fabulous, short-term tool for those who treat it as such. On the other hand, weight loss surgery can be an unmitigated disaster that leaves someone just as overweight as ever and with myriad health problems directly resulting from the surgery itself. As with all things in this life, it depends on a bunch of factors. ↩
- For me, this means eating the foods I don’t relate to in a healthy way, not getting enough good-quality sleep, not being consistently active, and not calling my mother – Hi, Ma! – among other things. ↩
- High five to those of you who think “masturbation” when you read the words “abusing myself.” Go, Go Catholic school education! ↩
- It’s not a miracle – it’s attainable. I promise. ↩
- Another word on domestic violence: Relationships are complex and nuanced, especially domestic relationships that involve abuse. As many know, there is a tendency for the victim to return to, or stay with, the abuser. This pattern is often pointed to in order to justify placing blame on the victim. This way of thinking is oversimplified, short-sighted, and entirely unhelpful. For more information about why the victim often goes back to or stays with the abuser, what policies your community can adopt to keep victims safe, and ways to hold batterers accountable, visit here (the link is clickable in the footnote below the post). ↩
- Like an au lait from Cafe du Monde. Hold the beignets s’il vous plait and thank you very much. ↩
- Today, the song on the radio was ‘Pressure Drop’ ↩
- Coffey’s defaults include: morbid obesity, complete inactivity, drinking a lot every day, smoking a pack or more a day, using ‘recreational’ drugs ‘occupationally,’ sleeping during the day, and listening to hair metal. Good hair metal, but still… ↩