A Chain of Demons: On the Politics of Abuse
Let’s take a second to breathe. All of us. Collectively. You deserve that.
I write while listening to Steve Reich's music often, because it calms my brain down. That’s what I’m doing now. It has patterns. They interlay and correspond and pontificate. That is exactly what I’m writing about.
To the important part. Everyone settled? Let’s talk about abuse. Yes. The elephant in the room that our elders told us wasn’t a topic of discussion. Why? Because they’ve experienced it. And it is hard. And it is detrimental. And it spirals out of control unless there is someone or something to make it stop. Sound familiar?
I’d like to talk about how, much like other things (gravity, anyone?! Who knew?!) abuse comes in waves. It is often the result of prior abuse, and unless we have the ability to end the cycle, we only have the capacity to allow it to snowball or fizzle out. The ball is in our court, ultimately, when we are abused in some way or another. It is applicable to all forms of abuse, whether physical, mental, sexual, or anything in between the blurred lines.
This is, in particular, a message that I would like to deliver to men with the unwillingness to listen. I was told once to “go forth and tell [my] brothers”. In fact I was told multiple times. Why? Because cisgender* men are often told that it is weak to have a capacity for feeling. That if your rage isn’t taken out exactly as such, that you are weak. And here I am, feeling incredibly strong, having grown up without the influence of a (likely abusive, I can’t be the one to say) biological father. Instead, I grew up loved. So much. By a wonderful family. Who in the face of adversity have always chosen to love one another. And everyone around them. Always. No matter what. And that’s what I want to take away from my upbringing. When confronted with a child who in many cases would have been aborted, my Grandparents quite simply said “Great! A baby!” and helped raise me alongside my wonderful Mother. Who many of you know is nothing but a tremendously caring and strong human being.
Unfortunately, many of us are not raised with love as the centerpiece of our upbringing. Love and hate are far too close together in our brains. Some of us are resented and pushed down, and taught to hate ourselves and who we are and our ability to grow and thrive. When was the last time you saw a plant that grew without water or sunlight or air? It doesn’t happen often. But sometimes it does. And let me tell you something about that plant. That is a strong plant. If it survives. But that is the hard part. Survival.
When someone is abused their brains respond as best as they can to maintain the health of their body. Sometimes this results in a catatonic state of non-response. I’ve been there. It isn’t fun. Sometimes it results in a lashing out of sorts at the people they love. I’ve been there too. It isn’t fun. But ultimately what matters is what we take away from all of it. This abuse comes in all forms, whether it be something as simple as cat-calling on the streets because you’ve decided someone’s body is yours to dictate— “Why don’t you smile, baby?!” comes to mind often—or fully taking ownership of someone’s body without their permission. Why do people, and often afab (assigned-female-at-birth) people not smile in public? Sometimes it’s because there is nothing to fucking smile about. Sometimes things are fucking awful. And why do you of all people deserve a smile from someone who doesn’t owe you anything? You don’t. That’s not your smile to take. That is someone’s body. Not yours. Go do something with your own goddamn body and stop telling someone else what to do with theirs.
These varieties of abuse can start with something many view as insignificant, something verbal, a hug that wasn’t asked for, but they all can contribute to something much larger in those of us who have experienced abuse, and this is the loss of hope. “The vilest thing you can do to a human, is steal hope from them.” Abuse is something that we can all bounce back from, unless we can’t. This kills people. In many ways. Whether it be a very real homicide or the resulting suicide. These are all murders. Don’t forget to protect yourself.
As I type these things out I get angry. I punch keys a little heavier than I did when I started writing. And that brings me to my next point. We are all angry. We have a million reasons to be. But what matters is what we do with that anger. Therapy taught me that pent up aggression is not necessarily a curse, but potentially a gift. Sometimes you can utilize it as a tool for your own benefit, and potentially the benefit of others. Turn it into art. Do you need to hit something? You might. We’re human, and that’s all that can be said about that. But try hitting something that can’t feel. People with patterns of abuse often think that “something that can’t feel” includes people without the capacity to feel anymore. They prey on the weak. They seek it out. They think that that’s the time to act and “help” because they don’t realize that they aren’t actually “helping” but rather pushing an already broken person down deeper into a hole of disrepair. And that’s where love comes in. Ask yourself “is what I’m doing truly out of the love for another person, or is it out of selfishness? Am I trying to help someone? Or am I upset that I want what I can’t have?”
All of these questions are essentially the surrounding questions behind the concept of consent. Did you ask that person if you could love them exactly the way that you love them? Did they agree to be loved by you in that way? Checking yourself is healthy behavior. For you and the people around you. Love yourself first, and then you might have the capacity to love someone else. But please, for the sake of everyone, don’t you dare take your damaged past out on the person that you keep telling yourself that you love so much.
This is a message to everyone. To abusive people. To loving people. We’re all in the same boat. It’s hard to try to keep it afloat when we’re all paddling in different directions. And I hope this isn’t perceived as apologist language. We all need help to be able to love the people in our lives fully and truly. Some more than others. Some at certain times and not others. It’s a constant ebb and flow of emotion and our capacity to feel when we can and when our bodies tell us that it just isn’t the time for feeling.
Someone who I was very close to during a time of her abuse, albeit unknown to both of us (hindsight is always 20/20) told me after the fact that “time does most of the work”
And that’s all we really need. Time to work on ourselves. And then time to work on the people we truly and sincerely love, because they deserve it. Because that is the truest act of loving someone.
Samuel Mooney writes loud music, makes decent coffee, and when he gets mad he occassionally writes about it.