Nine months after TBI

last weekend I found short-term housing with enough room for me, my daughter’s cat, and my rats.

on Monday I attended a GA (which I think stands for General Attendance) meeting at the homeless shelter to see if I could enlist the other residents to follow the mask policy so I’d feel safe there. it was my last-ditch effort to be able to stay at the shelter and be able to follow my trauma rehabilitation program. it was a discouraging exercise. I cried a lot afterward.

Tuesday I signed the lease. I can’t really afford it but I need to get better. I need room to hang my vision therapy boards and lay on the floor so I can work with my breath, and I need enough space to move around without constantly injuring myself because the brain injury disconnected my brain-body awareness. the rest of the week was a frenzy of moving my rats, the cat, and gathering up enough of my belongings to move in. I’m really tired.

Last night I met up with my friend J and we processed things together because we’re all dealing with housing insecurity. they made an observation that I found very illuminating, because I thought my ability to make decisions was impaired with the assault that caused the brain injury. they’re really perceptive though, and they broke some things down for me because I was so sleep-deprived and the X had been deliberately triggering my PTSD for so long that I didn’t even notice how he’d been conditioning me to doubt myself, by pushing me so hard physically that it took little effort to derail my faith in myself.

I have a process. I’m constantly gathering data about subjects that interest me. I’m constantly weighing the pros and cons, assessing the gaps in my own knowledge, and seeking the wisdom of others so that I feel like I’m informed enough to make the decisions I need to when the time comes. one of my greatest assets is my loved ones who will disagree with me if I’ve failed to consider something important.

he had no faith in me. he did not believe in me. he demanded that I go through my process with him every step of the way so he could criticize my process, even though the conclusion was inevitably the same once he took me through the rigorous and exhausting process of vetting my every thought, feeling, experience, or skill, including googling all the details. the cult conditioning that had left me incapable of making decisions, that had taken so many years of therapy to overcome so that I could make decisions for my own well-being, was undone. I was reconditioned to mollify his temper tantrums at the expense of my mental health.

that was what made my friends dislike him so much. a large part of my regret is not what happened to me, but what was done to my friends and my kids through that, because they witnessed him tearing me down, and were subjected themselves to some really horrifying manipulation at the hands of him and his friends.

I’ve endured abuse at the hands of men, but the worst thing about trying to manage their moods was the very real danger my kids were put in because of the privilege that makes men feel like they can scream, manipulate, denigrate, trigger, micro-manage and otherwise control the thoughts, feelings, and actions of people they perceive as dependent on their good-will, if you can even call it that. first my kids’ dad, whose abuse is documented… then my girlfriend’s ex, whose abuse against her and their kids is even more thoroughly documented… then this guy, who pretended to understand how vulnerable we are, who promised he wouldn’t betray us, and who turned around and exploited and betrayed us anyway.

it wasn’t just that I was assaulted and left with a brain injury. it wasn’t just that my daughter’s cat and my rats were in the house we were locked out of because he knew what would cause us the most pain and desperation. it’s that he was mean, and he was sneaky, and he was trying to drive wedges between me and everyone I care about. there’s so much. so fucking much. and it’s all things that he knew I wouldn’t tolerate, so he kept me exhausted so I became defenseless. he planned it all so it would hurt us as much as possible. both my kids relapsed to try to survive what he was doing to us.

every time we find another of his marks on our belongings, or find that he intentionally broke or “lost” something, we’re reminded of how much control he needed over all of us over things that ultimately didn’t matter and how much he enjoyed causing us pain.

like telling me that wanting something because it’s cute is stupid… like using words like “always” and “never” in relationship therapy… he said I “always blame others” and “never” hold myself accountable because I once used the phrase “Other People’s Drama”… but only once, because he tone-policed any inclination I had to trust him with my feelings right out of me that day… accusing me of misgendering him when I was using the pronouns he wanted me to, while repeatedly misgendering me in therapy sessions and in the community… giving me things then keeping them… withholding and breaking our treasured belongings because he could… making racist speeches around my friends… the mind games were triggering, exhausting, and surreal.

all of it was all on blast, endlessly repeating, because of the brain trauma, until the 3rd week of neurofeedback treatments, which didn’t start until 6 months after the lock-out and assault… because, I suspect, my doctor (who became his as well because I share my resources) didn’t believe that such a nice guy was capable of doing the things he did.

J reminded me of a day that we’d been moving his furniture in the heat of summer (the 2nd summer in a row, in fact). we were all exhausted and punch drunk and just needed to rest, so we sat down in the back yard while he vacuumed up some of the dust he’d blown all over everything after my daughter and I had cleaned up after the contractors. we could see him through the sliding door and I knew the hose was going to pop out of the vacuum but I couldn’t get up to go into the house to warn him because my ankles and knees were on fire. the hose came off, and we started laughing because it was something that would happen to us. I wondered aloud how long it would take him to notice, and when he didn’t I heaved myself up and went to the window to try to get his attention because we weren’t allowed to use the back entrance. I was still laughing, but he thought I was crying for some reason and got really offended and smiled and flipped off my friends. J said they thought he had finally got our sense of humor, but that was the moment he turned mean. later he berated me for taking a break while he was working, as if I hadn’t been doing his manual labor for months and suffering profoundly because of it and legitimately needed to take weight off my knees. I’d been wracking my brain until last night trying to figure out what had changed him but couldn’t figure it out. all I knew is that he became suddenly and openly hostile.

the thing is, he knew we laugh at ourselves and each other. we’re human. we make mistakes. what’s the damned point of not laughing? we weren’t ridiculing him. he laughed as well, so we didn’t have any reason to believe the smile and finger were anything but playful. we had no idea he was so full of rage. I wish we had.

I wish he could have been honest and authentic, too.

I think the most authentic thing he shared with me was that he didn’t feel motivated to learn anything new because he couldn’t see the point unless he could be perfect at it without putting in any work. he admitted that he couldn’t find joy in the journey because it was only the destination that he’s concerned with.

he’s so concerned about appearances that he habitually framed our existence as cishet to the point of relying on the crazy ex-girlfriend trope to justify his violence towards us. but I’m not crazy. I have PTSD from men like him and his friends. what he did to us is unforgivable. he exploited us, abused us, then terrorized us.

and he lied. he tried to gaslight me into believing I’m a liar while creating a very thick pile of evidence that he habitually lies.

he used my experience as a DV courtroom support person to exploit the system against me. he tried to make me stop being there for others, which is something I cannot do, then took those things, what he recognized as the abuser’s pay-to-win strategy, and used it against me and my kids.

I could have pretended to go along with him, acted contrite, manipulated his emotions so he wouldn’t hurt us, just to buy some safety, but I can’t play those games and he knows that. it’s against my nature to be anything but honest. I’m actually proud of that. it means I can be a loving parent, friend, and partner. WYSIWYG all day every day and I expect the same from the people I’m close to.

I didn’t realize that I’d gotten into bed with a stalker, but that’s what I did, and yeah I’m full of regret over it because he didn’t just hurt me. he used a lot of people to get his way and hurt people who’d been nothing but kind to him. it was a horrifying feeling to find myself trapped with another man willing to do emotional violence and cover up his friends’ physical violence so he could feel justified in breaking every promise he made to us. the memory of him sickens me.