I have always trusted my brain. It’s the one thing I can always count on. I know I’m smart. My parents thought I was smart and sent a weird red-bearded man to test my IQ in fourth grade. I would become agitated that I was pulled out of class to be with a man who generally gave me the creeps. He was a specialist I think, not a familiar figure in school and any interruption to my routine would distress my system but I always did what I was told. That’s how God wanted it to be. He asked questions about how I knew water was boiling. Well because it bubbles, bro. At the end of the cryptic visits I was pulled into the principal’s office. “Jennifer, would you like to skip to 7th grade?” I was in fourth grade, about 5’9″ inches, fluffy black hair, big hips, and gigantic purple glasses. God, no. I’m a social pariah as is–I know that. Please, no.
I stayed in the same grade and some of teachers didn’t feel I was living up to my potential. My first “B” came in work ethic. Straight A’s in every other subject but more was expected of me. I still don’t know my IQ to this day but clearly I wasn’t meeting the expectations of whatever that number proposed. One day, the white bearded librarian came to our classroom to play a rousing game of chess against me while the entire class watched. I wasn’t worried–Dad had taught me well and my patience and strategy didn’t quite get me to victory that day but a stale-mate that must of somehow reflected my place in the world–I was moving around my chess pieces in simultaneous offense and defense. Smart enough to win, smart enough to not care.
Being intellectual is a gift. I can think my way out of so many problems. I can create a safe world in my mind and write stories of how my mind works. I can mimic trauma in non-fiction. I can metaphorically write about the details of my life connecting them to the bigger picture. I see the nuances and also the bird’ eye view of life and philosophy. I can contemplate God. Somehow, I thought my intellect was a much stronger defense than it panned out to be. I still have a hard time understanding some of the events that have happened in my life. My brain was wired well enough to forget most of the bullshit. This year my mind has turned against me and memories have come back. Painful. I thought I was smarter than that.
I walked into work one day and asked my co-worker who was a boxer about what happens when you get hit. I hadn’t been able to hear out of my right ear for four days. During sex, my boyfriend had punched me so hard in the face I stopped being able to hear. “It’s called boxers ear, Jen. You should be fine.” This boyfriend and I were into some obscure shit. We liked to listen to heavy metal and muse in our anti-social tendencies. One time I lit a marijuana pipe red hot and pressed it into my thigh. I asked him to choke me until I would almost pass out. In the world of sex–these were not off the beaten path. Folks have kinky sex way more often than we want to admit. This was, for the most part, normal sexual behavior. But, I didn’t ask him to punch me. I didn’t know he would punch me. He hurt me on his terms. Weeks or months later, who knows, I ran sprinting back to my house after he had dumped me on the side of the road. I ran and ran to get back to safety and the door came swinging open. He would always find me.
My Dad died in 2008 and it fucked me up really bad. I choose the words I am saying and fucked up isn’t strong enough. My world imploded. My true north ceased to exist. I shacked up with a guy who’s name I can’t even remember. I didn’t even remember he existed until this year. Back in the college days of drinking and debauchery bars would often make special glasses for mixed shots–i.e. like a Jager bomb. Plastic shot contained within a glass where Jager would go and then surrounded by Red Bull. I don’t know how it all went down but I remember my nose and mouth being covered by the giant hand of some strong iron-worker from Arkansas as he watched my eyes turn red. Before I passed out I smashed the pink plastic cup into the side of his head and felt the small plastic bits crumble in my hand. Goddamnit, I was going to survive. I fell asleep next to him on an air mattress that night waiting for my inevitable arrest because he had choked me out again while I was driving a few days before. Third DUI, second violent relationship. Where the fuck was my brain. How could someone so smart be so stupid.
This summer I met a very nice guy with whom I felt very connected. He was long and lean and didn’t mind my quirks and didn’t seem to want to humiliate me during sex or choke me for no reason. I am so desperate for love that I crave any attention with someone who sees my brain. He saw and appreciated my intelligence and I felt we could play chess and talk of our family dynamics forever. I attach to folks so strongly, without a daddy. Without any role-models of healthy relationships. He became my world as I had moved from my home in Wyoming where folks didn’t care I was burned, kicked, punched, choked probably because I had forgotten any of it had happened. I was called Crazy Jen for so long I figured that’s what bitches like me deserve. Shit talking. Dirty looks. Sometimes, the crazy went in my favor and back in the day I would get free drugs as long as I did them intravenously in front of the dealer. See me fucked up. See me with no brain.
All these memories came back in a hotel room in Canon City, Colorado. “You are so fucking damaged, Jen. I feel sorry for you.” Ahh shit. He was right. I was damaged. I didn’t remember those events that had happened. But I deserved them, right? I lashed out in anger when I was attacked. When I was told that I wasn’t going to be in someone’s life because they didn’t want to have a “crazy girlfriend” I knew they were right. I made someone burn me. Punch me. Choke me. My crazy brought about violence in others. I was playing this game of chess to the best of my ability and I was letting folks down. That fourth grade class of blank eyes stared at me and watched me falter with every move. My work ethic was a “C” at best. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was being lazy and smart and should be in the 9039320th grade of relationships, not the second grade running away every time I was called a stupid bitch.
This is what is so hard. I’m smart. I’m kind. I’m a counselor. I was a victim’s advocate for years. But, these things still happened. I still let into my life 3 very violent men who intimidated me. Who physically abused me. Who emotionally degraded me. Yet I still see this as my fault. I know I’m mean and cruel but I know what has happened to me. I didn’t make it up but that’s also shady to me as well. How could someone forget being punched, burned, kicked, and choked? How could someone with so much sense end up in hotel room after hotel room being told what a horrible piece of shit I am? How could someone who had been to the emergency room several times with sexually assaulted women end up in the snow one snowy night in February 2017 shaky and scared calling the police to please, please don’t come out because in Colorado in domestic violence calls, an arrest is mandatory?
I am doing the very best I can. I just submitted a $960 bill for therapy starting in January before that cold February night when I remembered some childhood beatings that I still doubt. Because I trust my brain. This brain has gotten me scholarships, offers to skip grade levels, exemplary marks on standardized tests, its reasoned its ways out of these places. I still don’t know if I believe any of this was abuse. I’m just a strong-headed, weird, negative, and perhaps hard-to-love person. If I was sweet and kind in spirit as I feel in my mind then I would stop this cycle. The only thing I want today is to call any one of these men to come over and embrace me and then tell me what a fuck up I am. Yes, yes, second in words what I feel in thought. I am fucking retarded, I am too much to handle, I am not worthy of a faithful man or of someone to sleep next to at night. My brain has been hard-wired for torture. Whether it be self-torture of this entire blog or of the words of any man who I’ve held dear telling me of my inherent worthlessness. I think, I feel, my brain can no longer be trusted. That knot in my stomach was right. My sweaty palms, my hunched back. My body knew what was about to happen. But how could I leave the very thing that helped me to survive? I can leave these men but how can I leave my mind?
I played chess the other day and struggled hard to explain how it’s played. It’s through tact. Foresight. Observation. Strategy. Patience. Willingness. I think I can say I have been a victim of abuse. But I won’t leave that statement at just that. I have been a victim of my own mind thinking I was exempt from shitty relationships. I am a strong woman with strong trauma and these two do not want to tango. I received minimal support in this last abusive relationship and am pretty sure I was seen as the problem. I get nasty in intimacy because intimacy means I will get fucked up. So I give myself some grace. But I have very little grace for how I acted in defense of my well-being. I am still trying to live down some ruined relationships as I existed in months being told how I was the cause of any problem that happened in my life or in his life. So, I write this shit down to let it go.
I think I can trust my brain again. Its thinking in terms of case conceptualization and in clinical terms to help my clients. If I look to my own case I see many trauma responses. I see a childhood of dysregulated emotions and an adolescence of numbing and substance abuse that stunted my emotional growth. I see a 7th grader who really should be in 4th grade and is doing her best to fake it until she makes it. Those things did happen. And this time I will not let my mind forget. I will nurture my mind to connect to my body and feel the violence before it happens. I might not ever say out loud I was abused. But I will write it down and think on what could be different. Who I can choose next. And eventually I will find the peace I need to once again feel proud of my brain. The body part that just might save me, the organ that fires even when I’m asleep. I am smart. I am alive. I have survived.
“Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out?
Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you?
Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did?
Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you?
Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you?
Has he ever threatened to hurt you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he’ll ever be violent; he already has been.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men