Rolling Cigarettes

TW: Emotional Abuse
This is something a little different. I’m sharing a poem I wrote a while ago, that I’ve hesitated on sharing for a while because, well, poetry is a raw nerve for me, and I also don’t consider myself good at it. But here it is.

Days before he left me I turned down his cigarette.
He joked he was corrupting me, and reached to hand me one, pre-rolled, ready for me. He always rolled his own cigarettes.
His scowl when I turned it down is etched in my memory.
That was the day he decided to leave me.

I was madly in love with him and he loved that I was.
We spent hours in his bed with arms wrapped around each other. I laid my head on his bare chest and we’d talk about everything.
At my most vulnerable he’d send out a barb and I’d withdraw my body.
His cold patience triumphed as I returned to his warmth crying and beating on his chest, demanding to know why he said such things.
He luxuriated in refusing me a response.

I remember watching him roll cigarettes while I cried.
How do I say that rolling cigarettes resurrects the worst person to touch me?
He said my name like it tasted foul on his tongue.
How can I say his tongue taints the name my parents gave me?

Calling it an abusive relationship still catches in my throat.
Saying he abused me is easy to spit out; I wish if I could say it enough the venom would pierce his veins.
Calling what we had a relationship I force through my teeth like a lie I don’t want to tell.
My skull is an echo chamber for his insistent words.
“We are nothing, we’ve always been nothing.”

I fear at every step that punishment is right around the corner. Worse than that, I worry that I’ll have deserved it unknowing.
His words within are now resounding with my voice.
I realize I am now torturing myself, long after his interest waned.
He is still sending out barbs, and I’m still returning to his warmth crying and demanding to know why. I desperately want to know why.
I will excise myself to find that the world outside his bedroom is warm.

Mara Passio

When she has been hurt over again without committing a sin

Or: Tackling the “Repeat Victim” Phenomenon

How do we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances approach those who exhibit extraordinary risk-taking behavior and self-disregard?

I’ve been hesitant to write on this topic, as it is a sensitive subject for many, including myself. I feel like my insight is something that is important and valuable however, so I’m going to take the time to write a few thoughts.

I was at a convention a few years ago and I went to a class where the presenter introduced the concept of “repeat victims” as a counter-point to “repeat offenders.” The “repeat victim” was portrayed as someone who sought out, consciously or unconsciously, situations in which they would be abused or assaulted. Now, I will be transparent and say that I left this class about ten minutes into it, as I found it completely repulsive. I do not know what the content of the class was primarily about. I do not even remember what the title of the class was or who taught it. It’s not really important. What’s important to me is that I remembered this concept of the repeat victim. It stayed with me, haunted me, throughout my time in the kink scene, until I ultimately left. What’s important is that my friend, who was somewhat of a mentor to me in the scene, told me afterwards that he saw me leave and thought, “Now that’s a mistake, because if anyone needs to be hearing this lecture, it’s her.”

I was a repeat victim.

Let me expand upon that a little:

  • When I was seven, an older girl sexually abused me, which continued for about three years.
  • At sixteen, I was raped after getting wasted at a party where I knew almost no one.
  • When I was twenty, my first boyfriend told me I wasn’t allowed to have sex toys because it was cheating, despite the fact that he was “poly” and had another girlfriend; he made me bring him my sex toys, hundreds of dollars worth, so he could make sure they were thrown in the trash.
  • My next boyfriend raped me in my sleep several times, and my therapist at the time said it was normal for boyfriends to instigate sex while their girlfriend was asleep.
  • My first night in the scene, I had the inside of my brand new nipple piercing burned so badly that my top said he “smelled burning flesh” and it ultimately rejected. I had specifically told him during negotiation not to touch my new nipple piercings.
  • During a flogging, in which I had specified that we would be doing nothing but flogging, my top groped my breast, hard enough to bruise, and kissed me.
  • I received a back rub from a man at a club, and established that no play would happen after that. He then proceeded to grope me.
  • I was gaslighted for nine months by someone I was very close to.
  • I was raped by a girlfriend.

Now there are varying levels of intent involved in some of these anecdotes. For example, the man who gaslighted me for nine months understood exactly what he was doing, from before he started to after he finished. I consider him to have done something truly horrifying, and intentionally so. However, it is entirely likely that the men who groped me were playing fast and loose with consent, without preemptively considering whether or not they might be causing a violation.

The problem was that, from the age of seven, I was taught that what I wanted and didn’t want was not important. That was reiterated throughout my life, and I never really had an opportunity to learn otherwise. By the time I reached the scene, I was hurtling forward seeking pain without much consideration for safety, rolling with the punches as well as I could, and getting knocked down over and over and getting right back up, as I was so used to doing. It was my reality.

But more than that, I was determined to maintain my reality. I sought out risky situations, disregarded red flags, and refused to educate myself on how to protect myself from future injury. When injury did happen, I would inevitably say that I was entirely faultless, and that it’s the entire responsibility of offender not to offend. Honestly, the biggest problem with that attitude was that I kept getting hurt. I kept finding out who the people were who would bend or break the rules by diving headfirst into the most extreme situations with them and then being unprepared when they didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.

I didn’t completely have my head in the clouds during this time, of course. I considered myself an edge player, and I told people who’d talk to me about my play style that I did not recommend they style their play after mine. I considered myself to be a practitioner of risk aware consensual kink, and I believed I had accepted the risks involved in pick up play and high-risk play. But I hadn’t, not really.  Because eventually everyone will make a  mistake, forget something, or bend the rules, especially in pickup play, and I wasn’t prepared to deal with that possibility.

A bottom has a responsibility to be proactive in maintaining their own safety, including preparing for such possibilities, just as a top has a responsibility to maintain consistent consent. These two things do not counteract each other. I am interested in the practical aspects of protecting oneself without detracting from the moral obligation tops have to value bottoms’ consent. When something does goes wrong, it’s entirely likely both or neither are responsible. Acknowledging that allows for a lot more conversation about how to move forward.

How did I eventually move forward, and cease to be a repeat victim? Well, I suffered a knee injury severe enough that I was wheelchair bound and thus expelled unceremoniously from the scene without so much as a goodbye. Oh, I clung to it as hard as I could for as long as I could, but eventually I let my grip go and I was free of the scene for over a year, only returning when I felt I was absolutely ready, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

During that time, I was forced to face not only mental health issues, but also physical health issues that had for a long time gone untreated, and had compounded upon each other. I also was faced with the fact that, outside of sexuality, I didn’t have a whole lot going for me. Only after I got my physical health, especially my neurological issues, under control was I able to face what until then I had been too ashamed to admit, even to myself: I was a repeat victim.

I had read The Gift of Fear at the suggestion of my boyfriend at the very early stages of my recovery. When I finally was ready to admit that I was a repeat victim, I returned to this book and faced down some of the things I had learned there, and instead of just accepting what was in this book as information, I instead worked on how to apply it to my life. I sometimes now come across as jaded or cynical about others’ motivations due to this, but I find it truly useful to recognize when and why to trust and distrust others’ motivations.

In addition, I spent a lot of time just doing shit. Reading, writing, making art, talking with friends, going to concerts and events, and essentially, becoming a better-rounded human being, and making the decision to do these things on my own. This I think, more than anything else, is what changed me from being a repeat victim. It may seem silly, but developing a sense of self outside of one singular community, and learning to define oneself independently is essential to learning how to self-advocate.

My question becomes then, what does one do when you suspect someone you care about is a repeat victim?

I consider classes such as the one I went to, but how are we to keep them from leaving, as I did? And even if they did stay, there is a good chance that they would simply hear the information and not apply it, as I had with other classes on negotiation. Are we simply to shut these people out of the scene for their own good? I don’t know if that would be effective either, or if it would just lead them to riskier behaviors elsewhere, after feeling rejected by one of the few communities that might accept them. Is intervention the way to go? Or would an intervention just cause defensiveness and anger?

I don’t have answers for these questions, and I welcome the opinions of anyone who has helped such people before. It seems to me that, as with many things, change is only possible when one recognizes there is a problem. However, I question if there is a way to push someone to see that there is a problem when they are otherwise unwilling.

I request that all comments be made with compassion; any comments made with the intention of cruelty or flippancy will be deleted. I also request that comments be focused towards the topic of how we as a community, as leadership, as friends, and as acquaintances can approach those for whom we are concerned regarding extraordinary risk taking behavior.

Mara Passio

You’ll be thinking of me

Today, a close friend of mine made a post about a comment I made to her that really made an impact, and I thought I’d write a bit more about it at length.

What I had mentioned to her was a concept called forced intimacy. This is a type of manipulation where an acquaintance shares very intimate information with another person in order to create a false sense of closeness, usually soon after meeting. After sharing said information, the acquaintance then proceeds to expect said closeness to be reciprocated, either with personal information shared or with emotional support from the other party.

These situations usually feel uncomfortable for the individual being manipulated, as they feel that they have not established this intimacy through the time and effort that usually is required for that level of sharing/support/etc. and yet they feel guilt because they now feel obligated to respond by the other person’s vulnerability. This is exactly how the person who overshares wants them to feel. What then proceeds from such relationships is often a highly intense relationship that is not based on trust or common bond, but rather on heightened emotions, requiring every interaction to have high intensity in order to be maintained.

I’ll give an example of an experience that I went through recently, where I encountered forced intimacy:

I went to a support group for one of my disabilities, and afterwards, an individual caught up with me afterwards, alone, and started chatting with me about some things I had said in said support group, including the fact that I am autistic and bipolar. They then proceeded to tell me at length about how they had supported a past partner through grad school, who then proceeded to leave them after graduation. They told me about how this partner had bipolar disorder, and told me at length about the partner’s mental health issues. At several points I tried to cut the conversation short, asked no questions, and only gave noncommittal responses.

Eventually this person, after sharing with me for over an hour, switched the conversation over to attempting to extract information from me, about my dating life, about my diagnoses, about my treatment, etc. At this point, I did manage to extract myself, but this person did follow me and continued talking at me until I reached my car, at which point I finally made my escape.

Now, I had done, to my knowledge, nothing to indicate that I had any interest in having a conversation with this person besides perhaps a polite smile and nod, and had not directly spoken to them during the meeting. They had likely chosen me because I was new, and thus likely looking for connections.

Now, let me be clear, I have no idea whether this person did these things understanding what they were doing, or whether they were behaving manipulatively out of habit, as so many of us do. Many people, especially those with mental health issues, behave in manipulative ways in order to get the support they need because they have learned that is the only way that they can acquire it (at least in the form they want, which may be via friends, and not therapists).

I am by no means saying that all manipulators are people who are social puppeteers who know exactly what they are doing when they are doing it and have some big end game in mind; in fact, I would say the majority of manipulators are the exact opposite of this. I would say most manipulators know what they want for the next few steps; they know how to get from Point A to Point B. But this sort of manipulation is still unhealthy at best and abusive at worst.

Becoming aware of manipulative behaviors is an incredibly eye-opening experience, and coming to understand that we all, in fact, behave manipulatively at points has motivated me to become a more genuine person. As much as I may seem to others to be mistrusting or cynical, I believe that learning to see manipulation as it is and to learn not to respond to it, and, in fact, to reject and avoid it, will not only improve my quality of life, but will encourage others to learn to behave in ways that are less manipulative and more genuine in order to get what they want from me.

Mara Passio

Although we’re apart, you’re a part of my heart

Long after he left me for good, I’ve spoken with him. I’ve cried on his shoulder, long after I knew that would never happen again. I’ve lain in bed with him in a home he never entered.

These visions became a torment I did not understand. I called them flashbacks. But I was not reliving traumas, not exactly. I was living new traumas, or new versions of old traumas, and I didn’t understand how it could be possible.

I began to fear the space between sleep and wake. A space I didn’t realize not everyone even experienced. Before and after sleep I’d lay my head on his shoulder again and listen to the horrible things he thought of me. As I’d slowly fade into full sleep, I’d absorb his words and feel his chest rising and falling under my cheek.

Sometimes even I wouldn’t realize I was in the space between. I’d have terror-filled visions on my commute home of him getting on the train and casually standing beside me, ignoring me but invading my safety nonetheless.

When I consider my recovery from the gaslighting I experienced at his hands, I think – I know – that these unwelcome visions just furthered the gaslighting for me. The purpose of gaslighting is to convince the victim that they are insane, and I truly believed that, if I hadn’t been insane before I met him, I was absolutely insane after. I believed he had caused me to detach from reality.

Thinking about these times makes me so angry. I think about how, if I had only known that I had narcolepsy, if Ihad only known, I might have been able to make peace with these horrific visions. At least I would have known that he had not succeeded in driving me mad. It would have helped to know that what I was experiencing was not a result of anything he’d done to me, but a result of a neurological condition. Sure, I was probably hallucinating him in particular due to PTSD from the abuse at his hands, but the hallucinations themselves were not caused by his torment.

I fear constantly, though, to this day, that I will be visited by him again. I still see him, on occasion. I still fall asleep sometimes convinced I am wrapped in his arms. Sometimes I myself can’t tell the difference between a flashback and a hallucination, because sometimes I can’t remember if something had happened before or not. Narcolepsy has blurred the lines of reality in my post-traumatic stress disorder, and that is a terrifying fact to behold.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have a life where I know I’ll never see him again, even in my dreams. On a level I am resigned to it, and on another level, I am angry, incredibly angry, and afraid. I feel helpless against the half-sleeping dreams that plague me, and I do not know if I will ever be free.

Mara Passio

Heavy thoughts tonight and they aren’t of Snow White

This a non-narcolepsy post and is a response to:  http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/11/10/the-righteous-rage-of-margaret-cho/

My philosophy is, “murder the rapist in your mind so you stop killing yourself.” I’ve seen, in my lifetime, that sexual abuse has turned into self-abuse. When I kill the rapist inside of me, I will stop killing myself.

I want to murder my abuser. I want to cleanse myself of him. I’ve never been the kind of person to fantasize about harming another person, and I’ve never gotten to the point where I thought about how I would kill my abuser. If I could wish upon him a heart attack, though, I would in an instant. Without hesitation.

I’ve never viewed it before as him being inside me though. I’ve always viewed it as him being an outside force that is just constantly present around me, suffocating me, like a bag over my head. But when I look at what she writes, I realize he is inside me, because I let him in, over a year ago, and I want him to die because I’d rid myself of his influence.

I recently started thinking about moving to a new city, and I still think it’s a good idea, but part of the reason I wanted to, was to escape him, escape the memories and the fear and the possibility of meeting someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows him. I want to exterminate him from my life because I cannot exterminate him from the planet.

In the video, there’s a group of girls and women who are learning to fight and are chasing down their rapist. I want a team. I want a team of powerful women who’ve survived hells like mine and who can teach me how to survive. I feel like, despite my many traumas, I am still a novice survivor. More victim.

I am killing myself with self-abuse and neglect. I don’t consider myself worth caring for because he didn’t consider me worth caring about. I need to destroy the abuserv that has remained in my head, that I didn’t even realize was there. I need to destroy my abuser turned inward. I need to take my bag off of my own head.

Mara Passio