Not All Bruises Are Visible

“There’a a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.”
― Stephen King

 

#Trigger Warning: The following article contains violent literary imagery and extremely sensitive subject matter pertaining to physical and emotional abusive behavior. Reader discretion is advised. 

 

She sat on the bed, like a crumpled piece of paper ripped from a tear-stained notebook; I stood at the door way, blocking any means of escape, steadfast, white-knuckled.  The sobbing was barely audible through the screams; each broken plead smacked away with callous impunity. I was judge, jury, and executioner; the only victim was my bruised ego – nothing else mattered. Transgressions were to be punished until the perpetrator learned their lesson, until the unquenchable thirst for justice, righteousness, and virtue was satisfied – there was no room for pity, forgiveness, or respite.

 

The lesson must be taught by any means necessary.

 

That image will forever haunt me, will be permanently etched in my psyche, vividly emblazoned into my memory until the day I die – there will not be a day that will go by that I won’t remind myself:

 

I, Jose Sebastian Perez, was a victim of emotional abuse, and I am also an abuser.

 

Just like any drug addict, like any alcoholic, the operative word is not WAS….I AM – not because I choose to be, but because it was the choices I made that will forever label me; I CHOSE to emotionally and physically compromise peoples’ lives through manipulation, lying and cheating, through despicable acts of physical violence and emotional torture.

 

The subject of emotional abuse has been long overdue to be discussed, and due to pertinent and recent events, I am about to open a can of worms unlike any I have dared open before….

 

Why would I choose to act in such a cruel, disgusting manner? Why – after witnessing acts of cruelty, lack of empathy, violence – why – after huddling in a corner of my bed fearing for my life, waiting for the stinging pain on my face, desperately swallowing away the taste of blood in my mouth – why – after being covered in shattered ceramic, room temperature milk and cereal for eating slowly – why – after being humiliated, belittled, yelled at, threatened, barked, backhanded, welted with wire hangars, pushed head-first to the ground, kicked in the ribs, covering my 7 year old head – why – after being lied to, coerced into compliance, to strive for perfection, virtue, respect – WHY – would I want to put anyone else through that Miltonian imagery of suffering?!

 

Why? Why?! FUCKING WHY?!

 

Because that is all I knew – because that is what I was taught; perfection through violent training and conditioning is virtue.

 

I was a child whose innocence was stripped away, replaced with a sickening view of the world, amplified through the lens of mental illness – the very same illness which led my family to believe that my hyperactivity, lack of focus, and constant confusion was to be remedied through strict violence.

 

Image result for emotional abuse

 

Throughout the years, I used my mental condition and instability as a crutch, an excuse to condone behavior that is beyond reprehensible and condemnable – I used suicide threats as a tool to manipulate people for pity; I learned to mask behavior and mimic affection, snaking my way into roles of confidence and trust, only to then use that comfort for my own selfish needs and whims. I excelled at reading people, gaining insight into their hopes, dreams, pleasures and pains; I used that information to continue my charade of benevolence, all the while stuffing my maw with delicious gratification at the expense of others’ fragility and shortcomings, gorging on their weaknesses, exploiting them for my own gain.

 

The irony of it all, though, was that half of me was in on the plan; the other half of me was still that scared child, huddling behind the monstrous Hulk who was to be feared and respected – and I witnessed every event, frozen in fear, screaming at the top of my lungs at Hulk to not hurt the ones I loved – yes, I was still capable of feeling love, but it was attachment, necessity, desperation, that hunger for love and safety I was never gifted.

 

Abuse is simply about power and control, to use any means to attain it and maintain it – it is a sick need, a powerful drug, an addiction, that is born out of the desperation of having no control over your circumstances, of feeling powerless to overcome that agony.

 

Let’s take a quick moment to go over a few phrases:

 

“This is all your fault, I wouldn’t be upset if you wouldn’t have *insert arbitrary transgression here*.”

“You don’t care about me; all you care about is yourself!”

“Oh please, you’re ALWAYS the victim – you’re never wrong, I’m always the one at fault!”

“Why do you always make me do these things? You’re always bringing me down and then you wonder why I react the way I do?!”

“Why do I always have to do what all of you want me to do, when I have done everything that you ask of me?!”

“It’s always about what YOU need, about what YOU want; what about MY needs?!”

 

Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

 

Notice how all of them are directed towards someone else, blaming someone for behavior that does not correspond to them? Notice how it makes the recipient “responsible” for any consequence? Notice the accusatory tone, the aggression, the attack on character and emotion?

 

They are straight out of the Abuser’s Handbook To Manipulating Guilt In Their Favor.

Abuse quote - The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the onces who were benefiting from you having none.

 

The second you relinquish any sense of self-respect, self-worth, and allow emotionally aggressive behavior to go unrecognized without consequence, congratulations, you have officially allowed yourself to become a victim of abuse.

 

And thus the cycle begins:Image result for emotional abuse

 

  1. Tensions building – This is what I call the transgression phase, or “walking on eggshells”. This is where you notice meek behavior, a fragile state of fear where even the smallest hint of weakness will be perceived as an opportunity to strike, to exert power and control. These are the moments where abusers who feel powerless lash out and do whatever it takes to regain that loss of control, always at the expense of the victim of said abuse.
  2. Incident – This is the “shit has hit the fan phase”. Here within lies the main antagonist, the monster of subjugation, the duel of wills, the power struggle. This is where the majority of verbal barrage and attacking takes place, as well as physical violence – the escalation is intense, a terrifying game of “chicken” if you will, to see who will survive the ordeal. It almost never bodes well for the victim, for the abuser is willing to play dirty, willing to go to lengths of unimaginable mental and emotional depravity to exert his will upon those who have bested him – it is a do-or-die contest, and victims are blindsided so badly, that they relent to the assault.
  3. Reconciliation – Otherwise known as the “I Gone Done Fucked Up And Now I have To Clean Up This Mess” phase. Sometimes I consider this phase to be the worst part of the abuse, but that is definitely up for debate. Here’s where deadly charm and persuasion play a role in smoothing things over – every emotional guilt trip trick in the book is used – the term gaslighting* comes to mind. (To gaslight someone is to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity)
  4. Calm – And finally, the most famous term of them all, the Honeymoon Phase, known in other circles as “lovebombing” – the victim will be showered in adoration and gifts; promises are made, pacts are built, makeup sex is stupendous, and all is forgiven. “It won’t happen again, I promise. I’m a new person, and I will make amends. Everything will be better from now on. I swear.” Meanwhile, the abuser just hit the reset button on the next incident’s timer. The countdown has begun once again.

I realize this is a severe oversimplification of such a complex and sensitive subject, but the point I am trying to make is that emotional aggression is only a single type of abuse:

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A popular representation of the different types of abuse

 

There are boundaries and limits that should be established in ANY interpersonal relationship, whether it be familial, romantic, or platonic.

 

At this point I realize I have been pontificating, preaching to the choir like a humongous hypocrite.

 

“Sebastian, ” you say, “how dare you criticize and condemn the behavior which you have so shamelessly attributed to yourself?”

 

Because I am both a victim and an abuser. This subject needs to be talked about, exposed, discussed, scrutinized, and handled every single day, at every single moment.

 

Nothing, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can condone abusive behavior. NOTHING. 

 

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, run. Run like your life depended on it – in many sad and unfortunate cases, it does, and many men and women have needlessly and tragically lost their lives due to this horrendous behavior.

 

There is hope, however – with professional treatment, therapy, honesty, and brass balls, the cycle of abuse can be broken. This is not always the case, though, and it takes effort, dedication, love, patience, anger management, trust-building, and most of all – time.

Here are some tips that worked miracles for me:

  1. The first, and most crucial step is to recognize and accept that you are an abuser, or that you are in an abusive relationship. Internalize it, accept it, assimilate it, brand it into your DNA, douse yourself in strength and courage, surround yourself with positive influences, and seek a functional, stable, reliable support system.
  2. Be the architect of positive change, not the author of your own regretful obituary; pity parties – one of my favorite terms – are not a gala event people wish to attend.
  3. Hold yourself accountable for every action taken, every decision made, and every word spoken.
  4. Leave the promises to the indebted gamblers and finance brokers; do, don’t say. I know it’s a cliche, but actions speak louder than words – demonstrate that you are aware that there is always work to be done, and there is always room to learn and grow.

 

You know the old adage that a sheet of wrinkled paper can never be smooth once crumpled, no matter how much ironing you put it through?

 

It will never be the same, but that does not mean that the very page that was crumpled can’t be used to write a beautiful poem, to draw a simple, pretty sketch, or be shaped into a soaring paper airplane destined for clear, blue skies.

 

 

Ob-Noxious Behavior, Pt. II

“He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts.” – Samuel Johnson

 

So here we were, holding hands, walking along the middle of the proverbial train tracks, when the drama train was gunning for us full speed ahead, remember?

 

all-aboard-the-drama-train.jpg

 

There were three crucial questions I asked before heading for certain doom:

1) How do we avoid a disastrous collision?

2) If the imminent disaster occurs, how do we manage damage control?

3) How do we minimize collateral damage?

 

To answer those questions, we have to view the situation from two distinct vantage points; one, the always-right-kung-fu-master, and two, the punching bag.*

*Otherwise known as the communicator and the receiver, according to Berlo’s conceptual model of human communication, but let’s stick to the more whimsical, appropriate imagery, shall we?

Image result for kung fu master vs student

Yeah, they’re communicating. Really.

 

Here’s where things get a tad complicated.

You see, I was going to waltz into a diatribe on human behavior as it stems from nature vs nurture, the current standard of living as it pertains to social interaction in this current stage of human evolution, facts, charts, diagrams, puppet shows, YouTube clips, social media memes, etc.

And then I realized how simple it truly is to explain, instead of sounding like a pedantic wannabe.

The truth is, speaking from personal experience, toxicity stems from irrational thoughts and fears when it comes to the mentally ill. A mentally ill individual normally does not want to be toxic; quite the contrary – we wish to be at peace, to co-exist in a harmonious existence of perpetual bliss. That, of course, is a fantasy that we project* unto those around us.

*According to most textbook definitions I have found while doing research, psychological projection is defined as a defense mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.

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Not to be confused with astral projection; that’s a whole other can of worms.

So you see, when our expectations do not conform to the vision we have of what something should be, we immediately see it as a threat and act accordingly. We expect other parties to fully understand that THEY are at fault of situations that arise, not us; WE did nothing wrong, WE acted according to our perfect little vision of how things should be, so WE prepare for battle – battle flags are hoisted, fortifications are secured, and onward to battle we go.

The aforementioned party then gets blindsided in a stupendous WHAT-THE-FUCK moment that becomes a struggle to survive an unnecessary onslaught of emotions. Many of these moments cannot be avoided; they are just immediate triggers, and it is up to the individual who suffers from a mental disorder to apply techniques learned through experience, treatment, and introspection. After all is said and done, if steps were taken and a crisis still occurs, then all parties involved must be understanding, patient, and most of all EMPATHIC towards each others’ plight.

 

Simply said, it takes two to tango.

 

So that brings me to the extremist meme that I posted last time as an example:

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Nobody, I mean NOBODY is indebted to ANYONE; let me make that abundantly clear.

 

If a friend, loved one, or family member decides to stand by your side out of love and commitment through your disease, then that is a blessing that should be cherished and nurtured.

On the flip side, if a friend, loved one, or family member decides they have had enough….

 

IT IS FUCKING OK.

 

They are human beings, with limits just like any other person; they are allowed to feel frustration, anger, all the emotions that are associated with someone struggling with a painful situation that, in their own heart and mind, they cannot handle or are not prepared for.

 

IT IS OK FOR SOMEONE TO WALK AWAY; THAT IS NOT ABANDONMENT – IT IS SELF-LOVE, DIGNITY, AND SELF-RESPECT.

 

Just because you work in a hospital does not mean that you won’t get sick and need a few days off; does that make you a shitty caretaker?

Of course not.

In order to take care of others, you need to first take care of yourself, to be healthy and to be prepared.

So that brings me to the previous three questions that were asked. The solution is quite simple – really – when you think about:

 

Don’t be a prick.

 

Seems kinda anti-climactic, minimizing, simple and childish, right?

 

Just look at the facts:

  1. If you are a prick, prepare to be treated like one. Deal with it. It sounds harsh, and there is more to it than that because like I’ve said before, life is never simple. That being said, you get what you give; it’s simply the law of reciprocity.
  2. If you deal with being a prick and show you don’t want to be a prick, then allow others to help you not be a prick.
  3. If you decide to continue being a prick regardless, don’t be surprised when people tell you to go fuck off.

What it all boils down to is the fact that you cannot treat people like shit and expect them to just stand there and take it on the chin just because they love you; that, ladies and gentlemen, is called ABUSE.*

*I will be addressing the issue of abuse another day, because it is an extremely important component that affects all aspects of mental illness, both from a victim’s standpoint and the abuser’s standpoint. It is an important, fascinating subject that needs to be discussed with the utmost attention to detail and delicateness.

 

Nobody likes to be abused.

 

Toxic behavior can be modified, and in many wonderful cases, can be eradicated, but it takes a lot of hard work, discipline, mindfulness, and empathy.

In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan melted down, creating a nuclear disaster of unforeseeable magnitude. After 7 years of effort and cleanup, Fukushima has slowly been rebuilt, opened back to the public, repopulated, and is being proverbially healed. The Japanese government estimates the cleanup effort will take around three to four more decades and billions of dollars to complete. They could’ve gone the Chernobyl route and just dump cement over the problem and call it a day; but they want their nation to thrive and grow beyond the wreckage of misfortune.

 

It will take time.

 

It will take insurmountable effort.

 

But they have the commitment and the drive to make it happen.

 

Be a Fukushima, not a Chernobyl.

 

 

Ob-Noxious Behavior, Pt. I

“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” – Confucius

Today while I was browsing social media as I normally do when I look for inspiration (also known as extreme procrastination), I happened upon this little nugget of self-empowerment:

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That’s a pretty bold statement; strong, confident, motivational.

 

And dangerously one-sided, incomplete.

 

I take no issue with the act of proverbially, socially, mentally, and emotionally cleaning house, but judging others’ intent and merit on the sole basis of tolerating bad behavior is an extremely slippery slope to navigate.

 

Allow me to elaborate.

 

As I tend to preach, and sometimes prattle on, we all make mistakes. We are not perfect examples of virtue. We, as human beings, are innately flawed, fragile, and fallible, with the incredible ability to adapt, improvise, and improve. The drive to excel, to better ourselves, makes for great stories of drama, heroism, MCU movies, Netflix Originals, telenovelas, etc. We all love a good underdog story, and we all love to hate villains. Such is the way of the world.

It is during this journey that we encounter the supporting cast of our own personal theater of the mind; family, friends, antagonists, foils, the love interest and the occasional one-night stand. These are the markers that impact our lives, that mold our views of the world, set the tone for our present condition, that set up that wonderful character arc we call a lifetime of experience, our own personal hero’s journey. What we choose to do with that experience is what will determine the course of future endeavors, and so each event compounds the next, and the cycle goes on and on, creating routine and behavior.

 

The key word here is behavior.

 

Behavioral psychology – a school of psychology that explains all mental and physical activity in terms of response by glands and muscles to external factors (stimuli) – maintains that behavior is both conditioned and determined by its own outcomes or consequences (rewards and punishments) . *

*According to my initial research, mind you. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

 

This ties back to that dangerous notion of binary thinking that haunts most folk who suffer from bipolar disorder: if you do good things, good things will happen, and if you do bad things, bad things will happen.

 

In a perfect world, bad behavior is condemned and good behavior is rewarded.

 

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.

 

With that being said, there are many questions to be asked, most without definitive answers. Life and all of its intricacies are impossible to distill into such simple concepts when it comes to how we act upon our desires vs our environment; there are way too many factors, scientifically speaking, countless variables and influences to take into account, so in that maelstrom of cosmic and karmic turmoil we find ourselves right smack in the middle of that ageless argument:

 

What is right? What is wrong?

 

And so that brings me back to that well-intentioned, yet tragically misguided meme.

 

In the world of mental illness, the population can be basically boiled down to two groups: the afflicted and the non-afflicted.*
*I am currently wrestling with the thought of minimizing and dichotimizing such a concept, but bear with me for now.

67de0c2373bb16ffad2c1dc4def6cbe0--bear-meme-videogames.jpg

*Yep, I went there. Cue rimshot. 

Those afflicted by mental illness tend to see the world in a constant state of confusion because our behavior, as erratic as it may be, usually does not stem from malice; it originates from not being able to comprehend the world in an orderly fashion, so we grab on to dear life to whatever person or behavior justifies not feeling like an utter empty waste of space, a cross-like burden that taints that Rockwellian image we have of what the world should be. That image is distorted, blurry, and quite alluring, like a nice little acid trip; it also leads to toxic behavior, just like any other drug.
However, if you do not conform to how we see the world, you are exiled from our kingdom of joy, you are no longer welcome into our sanctuary of blissful misbehavior, and you are banished, labeled a threat to our feelings of validation and acceptance.

 

That’s where the toxicity kicks in, and why the lines and conditions of what is acceptable and tolerable behavior need to be established to preserve and protect everyone’s mental and emotional health and safety.

 

Who wants to be a buzzkill, right? Nobody wants to be a party-pooper.

 

Except that party that you’re having so much fun with?
It’s a one man wrecking crew, slamming into others with impunity and blind disregard.

 

No one wants to be standing in the middle of the train tracks when the choo-choo is barreling down at full speed….

 

all-aboard-the-drama-train.jpg

 

How do we avoid a disastrous collision? If the imminent disaster occurs, how do we manage damage control? How do we minimize collateral damage?
Tune in to next week’s action-filled episode to find out!