He’s trying to convince me that I’m delusional.
But I know I’m fine. He really did those things.
Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? – Lundy Bancroft
Gaslighting was Dom’s speciality, there’s no denying that. It got worse as I was living with him, I couldn’t get away from it, it was constant. Whilst I was jumping from hostel to hostel, from sofa to sofa, from here to there, it was easier, I had time in between to try and put things together. But when he moved in and everything got worse. I had no time to think, no time to clear things up or put it in order. All I had was the ‘reality’ that he imposed on me.
Everything that happened, the few things that he admitted had actually happened and he hadn’t simply convinced me that I was crazy and I imagined it, were my fault. It was me pushing him over that edge, it was me being the abusive one, him merely defending himself from my vicious, horrible attacks.
I really was so convinced for so long that I was the abusive one, that he really was just defending himself from me. That I hurt him and he was just doing anything he could to make it stop.
I worked really intently on a memory with my therapist, this week, one that to me just seemed so clear that I really was the abusive one, that he really was just defending himself. I’d been at uni. all day, I lived really far away because I simply hadn’t been able to afford to move when I started. It meant leaving at 6:30am each day. I’d spent the day in uni. then went to work. I didn’t get home till 11:30pm.
The moment I walked in, he started. I had barely walked into the living room. Hadn’t even had time to take my coat off or my shoes off or put my bag down. He started yelling at me, talking about how disgusting and messy the flat was, said that just because I was a crack whore didn’t mean we both had to live like one. Said how disgusting and lazy and useless I was. Before I’d gone to bed the night before, I knew I’d cleaned the entire kitchen, knew I’d washed all the pots, knew I’d tidied the living room of plates and food wrappers, I knew I’d done it. He kept going on and on about how disgusting everything was. I snapped.
I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sit down and chill with a brew for half an hour before I got on to writing an essay. I was so mad at him. I knew I’d washed all the pots but there he was, sat on the sofa, surrounded by what seemed to be every single plate in the kitchen, several crisp and chocolate and cake wrappers and leftovers from the chippy as well as crumpled up tissues everywhere. He was still playing his game, he hadn’t even paused it to yell at me. I knew he’d been playing it all day, making more and more of a mess around himself.
I yelled back, calling him lazy and useless and calling him the one thing that I knew upset and hurt him the most, the one thing I knew he’d have the biggest reaction to, but I was just so upset and angry and exhausted. I said that if he wasn’t such a fat, lazy bastard he would have done some cleaning himself. That I worked, that I paid the rent, that I bought the food, that I did all the cleaning and all he had to do was not make more mess. Calling him ‘fat’ was the exact thing I shouldn’t have done. He got so angry, actually paused his game, got off the sofa and beat the crap out of me. Said if I was so disgusted by how fat he was then I was gonna hate this. He dragged me by my hair to the bedroom, forced me to get undressed and raped me. Deliberately letting all of his weight drop on top of me, smothering me with his body, hurting me as much as he could. Repeating over and over that he didn’t care how fat he was, especially not if it pissed me off and disgusted me so much. That I was gonna pay for calling him fat.
For years afterwards, whenever he brought it up, he repeatedly said it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had called him ‘fat’ and I believed him. I believed that I pushed it, that I was the one that caused it all. That I was so horrible and cruel and abusive for calling him that, that he was merely responding to my abusiveness.
My therapist made me see it a different way. That he’d clearly been planning it all day. He’d been coming up with ‘excuses’ and ‘justifications’ to hurt me. That he made the decision to start yelling at me the moment I walked in, that I just wouldn’t have been able to win. She’s right, I wouldn’t have been able to. If I hadn’t been so exhausted and hadn’t snapped, a few different things would have happened, but they all would have resorted in him hurting me. I’d’ve apologised and started cleaning but he’d say it was too late for apologies and attack me anyway. Or he’d get mad because I’d end up not cleaning well enough or quick enough (either by his standards or because I was too exhausted to do much better) or I’d’ve begged for the opportunity to do it in the morning, which would have just pissed him off, or I’d’ve asked if it was OK if I just sit down for a few minutes first, which again would have pissed him off. From the moment I walked in, I wasn’t going to win, he’d already decided that I wasn’t going to win. I knew he was going to end up hitting me that night and I knew he was going to end up raping me. I knew he’d been planning it all day, I knew it from the moment I saw the tissues. I knew exactly what they were. I knew he’d been sat on that sofa jacking off to the idea of hurting me. He had planned it and he’d found an ‘excuse’ and nothing I could have said or done would have changed it. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d called him ‘fat’ or not, he was gonna hurt me anyway.
My calling him ‘fat’ might have been out of order, it might have been a low blow, but it wasn’t abusive, not really. It was the first and only time I ever called him ‘fat’, it wasn’t repeated, emotional and verbal abuse. I didn’t make him stand on the scales, weigh himself in front of me each day, criticise his clothing choices, point out fat rolls in various tops or say things like ‘do you really want your friends to see you when you look that fat and disgusting?’, I didn’t criticise his food choices, I didn’t control what he ate – either deliberately starving him or forcing him to eat more than he wanted (the more weight you put on, the more you’re shamed for it, the more likely you are to deliberately isolate yourself), I didn’t do any of the things he did to me for five years (all of the above), I said the word ‘fat’ once, which hardly constitutes abuse.
It still scares me that I am the abusive one, though. I really carefully and callously and maliciously went for what I knew would hurt him the most, I thought it through, I deliberately went for it and I’m scared that does make me abusive. I was knowingly going for the most pain I could.
Even if it was abusive, abuse doesn’t justify abuse. In any scenario, with any two people, one calling the other ‘fat’ doesn’t justify violent physical attacks and rape. It just doesn’t.
That was one of his attacks on me that he acknowledged, that he admitted was real, that had actually happened. But he massively twisted it to put me in the wrong, to make me the abusive one, to make me the bad one, to put the blame on me. He twisted it so he was only defending himself after I called him the most hurtful, painful thing I could think to call him.
Most of the things he did to me, though, he’d outright deny were real, that they happened at all. Honestly, I probably made it easier for him to do this with my already messed up mental health from the trafficking, incest and other abuse long before I even met him. I have a dissociative disorder which means that things like keeping track of time, events, knowing whether something really happened or not and chronology is really difficult for me. It meant that, in general, keeping track of everything was difficult for me and with his deliberate gaslighting and manipulation and his lies, it left me doubting everything so, so much.
Even when I had physical proof – scars, bruises, scratches, cuts, semen stains in my underwear and on my body, he’d find a way to twist it and convince me I was wrong. ‘Of course you wanted to, baby’, ‘Baby, you’re a self-harmer, what makes you think I did it?’, ‘You’re losing it, you probably just fell over again, you know how clumsy you are’, ‘Don’t you remember you fell down the stairs?’ I’d be so, so sure it was him, I knew with every bone of my body it was him, but half the time I couldn’t remember the actual event and the rest of the time he was able to convince me I was just remembering wrong.
The time he pushed me down the stairs because I threatened to leave him became me being so upset I missed a step and fell.
Every time he hit me or beat me became me being clumsy and walking in to something.
Every time he screamed at me or threw things at me or did anything, I was just remembering wrong.
He used my past trauma against me. Convinced me that I was just a messed up, crazy survivor who was projecting her past on to the here and now. That I was just seeing abuse everywhere, even where there wasn’t abuse. That I was blurring the past with the now and seeing my step-dad and my mum and my family when I should have been seeing him. I really believed he was right, that I really was just a crazy survivor projecting and misinterpreting and who was just so sensitive and broken and easily triggered that I saw abuse when it just wasn’t there. A crazy survivor who was self-harming, hurting myself and then blaming him – even if my logical mind could see that it wasn’t even remotely possible for me to make bruises like that, especially not considering that my usual form of self-harm is cutting.
Staying sane was nearly impossible. I didn’t know which way was up. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know if I was being abused by a violent man or if I was just so crazy I was imagining it all, even hurting myself to fulfil those beliefs. It took me a long time to be able to consistently hold on to the belief that he really was hurting me, that I wasn’t just crazy. It probably wasn’t until the last six months or so of the ‘relationship’ that I was really able to acknowledge that he was hurting me, even if I wasn’t yet fully able to acknowledge it as abuse.
I know why he did it. He couldn’t be held responsible for what he was doing if I was either causing it or imagining it all. I had no reason to leave him. I definitely couldn’t go to the police. The more I believed it wasn’t happening, the less likely he was to get in trouble. The less likely he’d be able to carry on doing what he was doing.
But there was nothing wrong with me. I really wasn’t just crazy or delusional. He was lying to me, he was manipulating me, he was justifying what he did to me. I wasn’t just imagining things or making things up; he really was hurting me and he really was abusing me.
It’s still hard to keep my memories together and keeping them in reality. It’s still hard to see the whole situation and not cut it down to where I can blame myself, where I can see myself as the abusive one. There’s a massive difference between me coming home and calling Dom ‘fat’ and him retaliating because I was so abusive and me coming home, being yelled and screamed at, being criticised and belittled whilst knowing that for the last few years I’d been responsible for everything and like all working class women juggling more than is feasibly possible and when I snap and retaliate being violently beaten and raped in punishment.
It’s still hard to not even re-read that and fight and argue with myself. What right did I have to call him ‘fat’? That surely is my being abusive, right? If any woman told me that their boyfriend called them fat, wouldn’t I say that was abusive? So why isn’t it abusive if I said it to him? I know power structures play into this; women are much more shamed and belittled and humiliated in relation to their bodies than men are, but that still doesn’t really make it OK?
Or does it not even matter whether it was OK or not? Does it not matter on the basis that he verbally attacked me first, that he set up a situation where he could beat me and rape me? That even if my calling him ‘fat’ wasn’t OK, his reaction was extreme and out of proportion?
Trying to keep it all in place in my head is still difficult at times. I so often find myself questioning if it really did happen or if I really am just crazy. And if it did happen, was I really the one to blame?
Trying to untie the knots that he left my mind in with his gaslighting now is one of the hardest parts of all of this healing process; especially considering he wasn’t the only one that left knots in there.