lundi 12 décembre 2011

Water on a Rock

Physical abuse slaps you in the face, psychological abuse however can sneak up on you unawares because it begins gradually and imperceptibly.  The first several years we were married there was no physical violence, but the psychological abuse continually increased.  Over time, the psychological abuse wore me down the way water wears rocks down.  I began to feel that there was less and less of me left.  I had no clue of how to deal with the psychological violence and I couldn’t say no, set boundaries, and so I began to disappear.

One way that I lost my sense of self, was through getting out of touch with what I wanted.  I knew I couldn’t have what I wanted, so I avoided disappointment by not being in touch with what I felt or making decisions.  Loïc would insist on my making decisions in order to show that he was including me in them, but then consistently veto them.  I ended up trying to refuse to make decisions.  We only went out once or twice a year, and he’d make a big deal of making me choose the restaurant.  When I chose Thai he’d say “anything but Thai,” so I’d say something  “Mexican,” and he reply: “Anything but Thai and Mexican,” and so on.  One year when we began planning our vacation months in advance, he was taking great pleasure in fantasizing about all of the details of the trip.  He’d insist that I choose a destination, agree on it, go on about the trip for a few days, then change his mind and insist on my choosing another destination.  This went on for a good two months.  What had at first been agreeable discussions quickly began to drive me crazy.  It got to the point where when an acquaintance asked where I wanted to go on vacation, I couldn’t say.  She was astonished: “How could you not know what you want?”  I thought about it carefully, and realized that I really didn’t.  I was at a complete loss as to where I wanted to go.  Decisions big or small were his to make.

One of the ways Loïc whittled away at my self-esteem was in making me feel bad about my body.  When we’d met, I was quite slim, and I’d put on some weight, but certainly wasn’t overweight.  Whenever he saw my naked he’d have a look of disgust on his face.  I began hurrying into the bedroom before he got there, turning my back towards the door in case he came in, and jumping into my pyjamas.  I took long baths, scrubbing and scrubbing at myself, telling myself: “Even if I’m not slender, I can be really clean.”  I hated walking past shop windows and seeing my reflection.  I hated it  each year when the magazines came out with their swimsuit and diet covers in preparation for the summer, and weight loss products were frequently advertised on TV.  To make matters worse, Loïc began telling me how much he idealized anorexic women--that they were his type.  He’d go on and on about an anorexic colleague whom he found attractive.  Even though I found anorexic bodies unattractive and didn’t want to have one, I felt bad that he didn’t like the way I looked.  Before I’d always had a healthy image of my body.

Loïc made me feel less than, in a number of ways.  While he generally asserted his superiority over everyone, he’d say that he wouldn’t have married a woman who wasn’t highly intelligent, but then he went out of his way to make it clear that I wasn’t as intelligent as him.  One reason he gave for my being less intelligent was that my parents hadn’t given me “structure,”  and somehow my studies were less of an achievement than his.  He would interrupt me constantly, justifying himself by saying that he was so quick that he didn’t need to hear all of what I had to say, which was also a good tactic to get me to give up on getting across my point of view in a conversation and shut up.  Another way he made me feel less than, was to forbid me to tell his colleagues that I was teaching English because they would think less of me--it was embarrassing for him.  He made me say that I was preparing a photo exhibit abroad or something else of the sort which couldn’t be verified.

I can’t remember most of the psychological abuse, even though it was woven into the fabric of our lives--it was there all of the time.  I gradually became aware of it and then of how deeply it was affecting me and the realization that the only solution was to get out.  It wasn’t the sort of issue I imagined that we could talk through and resolve.

It was only when I did get out that I learned how low my self-esteem was.  I’d always thought of myself as having high self-esteem.  After all I was self-confident and proud of my intellect, writing, and photography.  One day when I was at the center for battered women to see my psychologist, she asked if I would agree to take some psychological tests by a researcher.  In one of the tests there were a number of scenes which I had to complete with what I’d say or do in each situation.  I was rather surprised that in every single situation my responses indicated low self-esteem.  Looking at the test results, I realized what a door mat I was.  My self-esteem is based on my abilities and accomplishments rather than on my intrinsic value.  That was true before I met Loïc and certainly made me vulnerable to his abuse.  He nearly destroyed what little self-esteem I had.

Then at last came the final straw.  One evening we were sitting watching TV when an ad for the lottery came on.  Loïc told me to get up and write a note reminding him to play.  Fed up with being ordered about, I told him calmly that it was the same distance for him from the couch to the table to write the note down.  He protested that he worked hard, he’d had had a long day, and that his secretary would’ve done it without have being asked.  I got up to leave the room and then he leapt up and started beating my head again.  Oh that excruciating pain splitting through my head and radiating out. The beating threw my jaw out of line badly enough that speaking was difficult in the first days, and for ten days or so I couldn’t eat much but soup.

In this incident, unlike so many others, I can see what was probably the larger issue that turned something small into violence.  Well first of course there was, quite simply, disobedience.  Disobedience had been the only trigger of the first time he beat my head in.  But another trigger many have been the issue of money.  Loïc fantasized about being able to win the lottery and buy an apartment or house.  He had a good income but was envious of his colleagues and friends who were all in the same profession and all of whom had wives with the same well-paid profession so they were well enough off to have bought places.  He also related the issue of money to having children.  I didn’t dare bring up when we’d have children even though he’d said he wanted them, because every time I mentioned my sister and her children he’d go into a rage against people who have children when they couldn’t afford it.  Realizing that I’d approached the limits of being able to have children was one of the things which helped me make the decision to get out.  I’d let him control that issue long enough.

That Loïc had beat my head in a second time and the fact that I’d become aware to a good extent of the psychological damage, helped me make the decision to leave.  Before I could get down to the practicalities of finding a way to leave, I had to make the decision to do so.  And I did so, on a near daily basis, but then I’d feel that I couldn’t leave because I still loved him, and we’d have lovely days together.  And I couldn’t bear the thought of the suffering that leaving him would cause--that made me stay more than anything else.  I spent several years making the decision and trying really hard to force myself to act on it without any success.  Finally, I told myself that the way to make the decision was to decide that I really wanted to go even if it meant spending the rest of my life alone, that I’d prefer being alone.  It had to be clear to me that I absolutely didn’t want to be with him.  The book on ambivalence in relationships, Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum, also helped me tremendously in thinking through leaving.

Once I’d worked out the practicalities and found a place to move to, I had to face telling Loïc.  The moving date was upcoming.  The day before I planned to tell him, we had a really wonderful day and evening.  Cuddled up together on the couch, I couldn’t imagine how I’d manage to do it.  Would I put it off yet again?  I couldn’t bring myself to use the d word, instead I simply said I didn’t want to be together any more.  I left in December 1999, and then it took me about six years to file for the divorce.  There wasn’t any question of my going back, I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it for a long time.  There were still traces of the ambivalence I’d felt, difficulty letting go.  When I did finally file, it wasn’t because I’d moved on, it was because I had to, since I needed to go on disability,

vendredi 9 décembre 2011

Wedding Bells

In spite of everything I still wanted to get married.  For one thing, I felt like we were already married emotionally, that it just hadn’t been formalized.  For another, Loïc was clearly insecure about the relationship, afraid that I would leave.  He was worried that marriage would end in divorce, since “Americans get divorced easily,”  (They don’t actually get divorced more frequently than the French.)  and I was from a broken home.  That insecurity produced negative behaviors which drove me crazy  and which indeed disappeared after the wedding.  More importantly, there was still the question of getting papers.  I couldn’t ignore the fact that I couldn’t earn the money to leave him unless we got married.  And even more importantly than that, was the feeling that I had to marry him--it was imperative.  My mother wanted me to marry him and I felt that I had to obey her desire.  There may have also been something deeper in my psyche that contributed to feeling like marrying him was imperative.  Finally, quite simply, I loved him.  How you can love someone who’s violent, who’s in the process of destroying your self-esteem and identity, is something that I can’t explain.

After Loïc agreed to a wedding date, and the plans were underway, things got particularly bad between us.  I can’t really remember what all got bad.  The violence perhaps?  I know our sex life was almost dead, and that I was despairing of rescuing it.  That was a big issue for me and I wanted to talk about it, and other issues such as finances, which I felt needed to be resolved before the wedding, but Loïc kept putting off talking or taking any actions to resolve the problems.  I was still convinced that if we could talk through our problems and seek outside help where necessary, we could work through them.  Everything that is but the violence, I knew talking wouldn’t put an end to the violence.  Loïc kept making phone calls to family members about flights and the wedding plans, and continued to do so even after I threatened to call everyone and say the wedding was off if we didn’t start working through our problems.  I didn’t know how to get through to him other than to leave, but couldn’t get myself to do so.

I found a friend who was both willing and able to help me talk through and think through the violence and the other issues in the relationship.  He was highly intelligent, empathic, and familiar with psychology.  We spent hours a day talking as I struggled to come to terms with what was going on, and to make a decision.  It was like going through really intensive psychotherapy.  Finally I made the decision to leave.  I couldn't have left if I'd been totally isolated. Now I understand why Loïc isolated me. It was so difficult for me to leave that as horribly cruel as it was, the only way I could think to do so was to pack up everything and go without warning.  I couldn’t have left if he’d been able to insist face to face that I stay.  So he got home to find the apartment half-empty, with a note, but no phone number to reach me.  

I went to stay with a new found friend in a small studio.  She was terribly generous, but clearly I couldn’t stay long.  We shared her bed, and my boxes took up practically half of the room.  I called my mother for help, telling her in detail of the violence, but she said she couldn’t help me.  Not only did she not help me financially, she didn’t discuss it with me, make suggestions or ask questions, which is surprising for a therapist.  Then I called my father who offered to send what he’d planned to spend on the wedding.  It was enough to get a flight home, but not enough to ship my belongings.  Also, I was torn up, I’d adapted to French culture and become accustomed to my life in Paris, I wasn’t mentally ready to return to the US, and worse yet was clueless as to what I would do or where I would be able to stay if I returned--returning would mean facing great difficulties.  The money my father sent wouldn’t go far.  I had to find work, but there was still the same old problem of not having a work permit.  To make matters worse, the truth was I wasn’t well enough to work, as I was really suffering from bipolar disorder for which I had no treatment since it still hadn’t been diagnosed.  I tried anyway, covering practically the entire city with English teaching ads hoping to find some private students under the table with no luck.  The money my father had sent ran out.  I was missing Loïc, but honestly don’t think I would’ve returned at that point if I’d had the means to be independent.

I returned, agreed not to leave again, and we got married on the originally planned date.  I was in such a state of nerves, my stomach was in bad shape before the wedding--I chugged down antacid by the bottle.  The wedding was tearing up my emotions.  I’ll never forget how horrible I felt at the wedding, because while I felt that I had to marry him, that I had no choice, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay forever in the marriage, that I would be leaving him.  So the marriage began with a fundamental betrayal.  I also felt quite sad seeing the emotion he was experiencing and wishing that I could share it.  It was my wedding day but I was not filled with joy.  Until the very last moment, there was another man whom I wished would save me.  Not that I felt that I couldn’t live without a man, I just didn’t feel I could get out by myself.

I don’t regret the marriage.  It was an important part of my life, one that I’m glad to have lived, in spite of everything.  I appreciate the time I got to spend with Loïc, the good things we shared.  What was good was good enough that I would’ve liked it to last a lifetime.  Does that mean I’m still in the denial phase of bereavement? Or will I be able to take my rose colored glasses off, balance out the good and the bad, and still not regret it? It may seem like I've taken the rose colored glasses off since I'm writing about it but the problem is there's a difference between talking through a trauma and processing through it, and I think I need to find more ways to process through it.

jeudi 8 décembre 2011


I first learned from one of my books on domestic violence that it’s all about control.  And Loïc was a control freak, I wasn’t the only one to notice that.   I’d never run into such big issues over control in a relationship before, so I wasn’t clear about what was going on when I first noticed his controlling behavior.  Now I know that it’s a red flag for physical violence.  When we were in Italy for a few months, before going to Japan, I first noticed his controlling tendencies.  I’d just graduated, and followed him for his work, so for the first time I was with him without money.  Each day I’d meet him at the office for lunch, then he’d give me just enough money to go out for a coffee, then I’d return in the afternoon to get money for our evening’s snack.  This bothered me, but I didn’t say anything since I had to go back and forth to the office at least twice a day, since our meals were with colleagues and payed for by the office.  One evening, when we were trying to figure out how to get back to our hotel, I said there was a bus that stopped just a few meters from where we were standing,  He knew the city better than I did, and was adamant that I was wrong, he physically blocked me from walking over to the bus stop to confirm that the right bus stopped there--that triggered a big argument.  Very disturbing to me was that he began controlling words and phrases in French, using them and then telling me that they meant something other than what I’d understood.  Since I wasn’t in France, I couldn’t confirm the meanings with anyone.  He would put me down and then deny it.  The acts of control at the time seemed small and inconsequential, but they left me quite disturbed, questioning whether or not I should go to Japan with him when we’d hadn’t known each other for that long.  What was he really like?

In Paris, after we’d returned from Japan, the control escalated dramatically.  Each day he gave me just enough money to buy one evening’s worth of groceries.  I had to go to him for every small expense.  Not giving me pocket money obviously gave him complete control over my activities.  He would call several times a day from the office to check on me, supposedly because he knew that I was alone all day and he didn’t want me to feel lonely.  If the phone was busy he’d ask who’d called, and what they’d said.  He would say that he wished I were small enough to carry around in his pocket.  An idea which I found suffocating.  When I got letters he insisted on reading them first, supposedly because he was so interested.  I couldn’t protest about his interest in phone calls and mail, because it was loving, as was his desire to have a pocket sized version of myself.  Many of his means of control were disguised as loving acts, which made it difficult to recognize and feel upset by, still there a vague sense of something being terribly wrong.

Next Loïc began using another tactic typical of batterers: he cut me off from others.  First, he put down the two women friends I had, saying terrible things about them and that they were beneath me.  When I’d plan to meet them, he find ways to keep me from going, and so after a few incidents like that, they dropped me.  Then he set about demolishing each member of my family in detail, going to great lengths to show that they weren’t supportive of me, weren’t to be trusted, that I shouldn’t be in touch with them.  When I ran into people in the street, he would stand between us looking terribly impatient to go, so others would cut the conversation short.  He had all sorts of tactics.  Once when I’d just arrived at a friend’s for lunch, Loïc called saying that he’d forgotten to drop off his income declaration, that it was the final day, and I had to go and do it immediately or he’d pay a heavy fine.  I stood my ground for a few minutes and then gave in and agreed to go, which infuriated my friend.

Loïc’s main way of controlling me was through fear, which it had taken that one single severe beating to instill deeply in me.  After that, he could tell me what to do, and all he had to do was get irritated if I didn’t jump to do it.  He would constantly speak to me from the other room so I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and then shout out for me to come into the room where he was.  His irritation terrified me, because it signaled possible violence on the horizon.  He expected me to serve him and so I served him.  Some of the expectations were small but irksome.  It was my task to open the wine each night and serve him a glass.  I walked on eggshells all of the time, fearing the flare ups of irritation, doing my best to keep the peace.  The littlest things were terrifying.  He criticized the way I made the bed--it was never good enough.  Each evening when he got home, the first thing he did was to inspect it.  So each day I would make and remake the bed, a nervous wreck, trying to get it right.  

If anyone had told me before I met Loïc that one day I would be servile and obedient to a man, I would’ve told them they were out of their minds.  After all I had strong female role models.  My grandmother was a fiercely independent woman.  She’d marched in suffragette parades, and had insisting against her father’s wishes to go to University when women had just obtained the right to attend university, thus becoming the first member of the family to go to university.  My mother was active in the feminist movement, and some of my early memories are of making posters for women’s rights.  Thus I’d grown up a feminist, expecting to be an equal in a relationship.

Because of the fear, gradually over the years I gave in on things more and more, small things and big things, until I felt that the only ground I had to stand on was the ground precisely beneath my feet.  I didn’t know how to say no or to say it firmly and loudly enough, to set my boundaries.  The ground I gave up was part of myself, my desire, my voice, and my independence.  One single step and I’d fall.  That’s how much my self-esteem and sense of self had been damaged by the psychological abuse.  

mercredi 7 décembre 2011

A Bipolar Drunk in the Streets

“A prisoner within four walls,” that’s how I felt when I got back to Paris.  I no longer had a student visa, and couldn’t get a work visa since we weren’t married yet.  Loïc was extremely stingy, so it was rare that I had a dollar’s worth of change in my pocket.  That meant I couldn’t go out to coffee with the few people I knew who were still in Paris, so soon they stopped inviting me, and I became quite isolated.  I couldn’t even sit reading for long in the parks on sunny days, because I couldn’t afford to use the public toilets.  So I stayed inside, bored out of my mind.  I looked forward to 5 p:m each day, when Walker Texas Ranger came on, because watching daytime TV was atrocious.  Walker Texas Ranger sustained me.  That’s how small my life had become.  My social life consisted of the 15 minutes a month that I saw my doctor.  Loïc wouldn’t even pay for the visits to the doctor, which were about $18.  So without my having asked, my doctor saw me for free and gave me sample medications.

After the first year back, colleagues and friends of Loïc strongly urged him to marry me, adding that this time while I wasn’t working would be a good time to start a family.  Although he’d agreed to marriage before my return to Paris, he dragged his feet, insisting that I could work under the table.   He wanted me to follow him around the world without any commitment.  So I was trapped, unable to earn the money to return to the US, and unable to work and become independent in France.  

I’d gotten into the habit of going out to bum cigarettes, since I didn’t have pocket money for them.  We lived in a quarter with a lively nightlife, there were throngs of people in the streets in the evening, and there were always some young people panhandling.  I first got the idea to go out and panhandle myself after Loïc had agreed to buy the photo supplies I needed for a shoot, and then retracted his offer at the last minute, when I’d already organized a model, clothing, a hair stylist, and make up artist, which is difficult to organize.  I looked the part for begging, my clothes and shoes were ratty, and it went well.  Imagine the dismay of those who gave me spare change for food and shelter had they learned how much of it I spent on creating the photos that got me into my galleries!  Little did they know that their spare change was nourishing me with the hope of having a future, it gave me a reason to live.  It was exciting being in the street, I was outside of the four walls of my prison, not participating in life, but at least able to observe it go by.  I enjoyed seeing people smiling and hearing their laughter.  It was a strange life, living in a nice apartment, preparing dinner, eating with Loïc, and then hitting the streets nightly.  Whereas in the past he’d kept a tight lid on my drinking, he now said nothing, not once did he say a word about where I was going and what I was doing.  I imagine he felt defeated by my destructive drinking.  

During the period when I was begging, my depression shifted, I went into what I didn’t know was a long mixed state of mania and depression at the same time--which is extremely confusing.  I knew something was terribly wrong with me, but I couldn’t say what.  To make matters worse,I I had severe migraines on a daily basis, which I didn’t recognise as being triggered by the drinking, because I’d first begun suffering from them years before I began drinking.  The migraines kept me in bed.  I’d lie there day and night, unable to sleep at all, sometimes for a week at a time.  Vivid and beautiful hallucinations kept me entertained, they waxed and waned with the cycles of the migraines.  Manic, my thoughts raced through my mind at lightning speed, so fast that words couldn’t even keep up with them.  I would get amazing insights and be unable to keep them in my mind--one insight would eclipse another.  Weekends, when Loïc was home, he’d put soothing music on for me, and come into the bedroom at times to show me beautiful and interesting photos that he’d come across in books.  He’d warn me  to close my eyes when he turned the pages, because seeing the movement of the turning pages triggered excruciating pain.  I could no longer read.  I’d try focusing on each word in a sentence in order to put it together, and then go from one sentence to the next, but by the time I’d get to the end of a paragraph, I couldn’t put together what it said.  So I couldn’t escape into books.  

One night when I was begging in the street, I looked up it as if I was looking up a long dark tunnel, and told myself: “There are only two ways out of this, death or the psychiatric hospital.”  I knew I was an alcoholic although I knew nothing about alcoholism or where to get help, and my mental problems while fascinating were frightening.  When people on the streets would tell me to get a job, I wanted to say I couldn’t, but I couldn’t explain why I couldn’t work.  For some reason the thought of going to a psych ward in France terrified me.  but I began mentally preparing myself for landing in a psych ward, hoping that it would be during a visit to the US.

Dating and Domestic Violence

I can remember the beating vividly, but not in the way you remember something you’ve experienced yourself.  A typical trauma victim, I remember it with the same detachment I would as if it had happened to someone else.  The later incidents of violence in the relationship are all summarized by that one memory which repeats in my mind regularly, without bringing up any of the emotion associated with it.  At the same time that it repeats,  I remember our relationship with rose tinted glasses, I remember all that was wonderful, and find it very difficult to remember details of the rest.  About a month after I finally left Loïc, I reread my journal entries from the weeks prior to my departure and was shocked by the psychological abuse--I’d forgotten, or rather, it had become abstract, that quickly.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to write about this, because even when I try, my mind just won’t go there.  A few months ago, unable to find my old journals and hoping to trigger some specific memories of the marriage in order to think through them and move forward in the process of bereavement, I dug out my books on domestic violence, but I couldn’t read a single page.  I spent a few hours in the park scanning through sentences and turning pages to no avail, with a vague sense of anxiety.  Actually, that’s why I couldn’t find the old journals--the truth is I didn’t dare look for them, I just scanned my room in despair of finding them.  Similarly, when I finally contacted a center for battered women and started working with a psychologist there, I was really motivated to talk about the relationship, but session after session all I could talk about was my exciting new life, and all the escapades with men it involved.  Funny that, when I think about it, this journal started with two apparently disparate topics--trauma and dating, and the connection wasn’t at all apparent to me.  Dating the way I did helped me reinforce the wall of denial that shut me off from my feelings.  

Last summer while I was here,  I read Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman.  My brother Peter and I had some interesting discussions about it, but then he asked me why I don’t leave the past in the past, and move forward with the present.  He knows about PTSD intelectually, but doesn’t get it.  I imagine that kind of attitude is common, and its frustrating because it silences the trauma, which you can’t leave behind you because the past remains the present in the psyche.  Herman writes that one of the fundamental stages of recovery from trauma is reconstructing the story.  I haven’t completed mourning the loss of my relationship with Loïc, or mourning for the self I was before it damage it caused me, because I couldn’t face it fully, even though I spoke about it with other people..  So I have to work through it now, even though many years have gone by.  I am just now approaching the end of the denial phase of bereavement, or so I think.  The next phases are anger, sadness, and acceptance.  These phases of berievement can be gone through in various orders and not everyone goes through all of them.  I may well not go through a phase of anger because I have so much difficulty feeling it.  I tend to turn it against myself, in the form of depression.

Due to the fallout from the beating, the subsequent deep and long depression, and the heavy drinking which I’d begun, my notion of chronology and memory of events is fuzzy from that point of the beating until a number of years later.  So I’m not sure how long it was between the beating and our departure from Japan.  What’s important  is that during that time, I felt that I had a solution for leaving.  I was going to move to Tokyo, alone or with Loïc.  I’d been commuting to Tokyo for my photography work which was beginning to take off.  It was reasonable to imagine that I could become well enough established to become financially independent, and stay on in Japan on my own.  An unexpected change in events was to change that plan.  Our departure from Japan was sudden and brutal.  

The project that Loïc was working on in Osaka had come to an end, and his employer had offered him the possibility of working in Italy but not of returning to work with the company in France.  And I had told him that he could go where he wanted, but that I was going to Tokyo  Then Loïc found a dream job, in charge of several interesting projects, with an excellent salary and a house in central Tokyo--which is unheard of.  While I was away in the US for family reasons, he packed all of boxes for the move.  The morning of the move, when the movers were on their way, he received a fax with a map to the house, and shortly after a call saying the job was cancelled.  His visa depended on the job and so we had to leave Japan.  He called me saying I had five minutes to decide where to spend the rest of my life.  I insisted adamantly that I was going to stay, since I really loved Japan, but he refused, saying my belongings were packed.  I had to give in since I wasn’t yet in a position to stay there on my own..  I didn’t have the means to make the move to Tokyo on my own, and would have had difficulties with obtaining a new visa.  He was devastated that the job had fallen through, and became paralyzed.  I felt that I had to take care of him, and organized everything long distance, giving him detailed instructions.  At the end of the conversation I said “Okay, we’ll return to France then, but I’ll only go if we get married.  I’m not willing to be there if I can’t work.”  Of course he wasn’t thrilled with my bringing up marriage in such a manner, but I didn’t have much choice under the circumstances.  

You might think that no one in their right minds asks someone who has beaten them severely to marry them.  But I didn’t know where to go except Paris, and I couldn’t work there....  People often ask if I was in denial, if I believed it wouldn’t happen again, but no, I was firmly convinced that if we stayed together eventually it would happen again.  I can’t say exactly what was going on in my mind, only that things were very unclear to me.  I now know that trauma also causes feelings of paralysis and indecision, so it’s not surprising that things were unclear.  I also believe that my fight or flight instinct may have been disabled, perhaps due to something in my childhood.  Even if we’d gone to Tokyo and I’d managed to become financially independent, I don’t think I would have been capable of getting out of the relationship at the time.  I remember that when his job fell through I felt like I had to be his glue, to hold him together, a feeling that continued over the years.  Also, even though we weren’t married yet, we’d made a commitment to stay with each other forever, which I felt was binding.  Typical of an abuser, he’d asked for a firm commitment very early on in the relationship.  I couldn’t hurt him by breaking up with him.  I know I didn`t have a plan b for when he became violent again, instead I was focused on the immediate--finding work and beginning to establish my career, which would’ve meant independence in the long run.  

It took me about two months of working in the US before I could buy a plane ticket to France.  During that time my drinking career took a dramatic turn for the worse.  I’d begun drinking nightly a few years before meeting Loïc, then he kept my drinking strictly limited to one beer or two at most a night, and he didn’t let me drink every night.  But in the US I found myself alone again, free to drink as much as I pleased.  And I started getting smashed every night in order to cope with the trauma.  I became a full blown alcoholic.  It’s common for trauma victims to turn to alcohol in order to cope.  While the depression alone was paralyzing, booze fueled its fire.  Drinking did help dull the pain, but of course it immediately made my confusion worse.  You can’t think through things clearly when you’re drunk.  And yet night after night while I was drinking I tried to think of what to do, writing out ideas, trying to find a way out, and thinking through to whom I could talk, but my drunken thoughts went in circles.  

When I thought about who I could talk to while I was in the US, about who could help, I despaired that there was no one.  In retrospect, while most people would’ve been supportive without being very helpful, I can see that there were several people who probably would’ve been a great help.  I honestly don’t know why I didn’t talk to anyone about it.  One problem though is that they would’ve helped me get back to the US, and I just couldn’t see what I would do there.  My home town was no place to do my photography, so I couldn’t stay there to build my career, and I knew I couldn’t stay with my family, so I couldn’t imagine where I’d go or how I’d get there.  Starting over in another city in the US would have been as difficult as starting over in France, minus the visa problem.  And so I returned to France feeling utterly confused and lost.

vendredi 2 décembre 2011


I’ve been dancing around the topic of domestic violence since I first began this journal, it has remained hidden in the shadows.  I've needed to talk about it and at last I’m ready to talk about it.

Loïc and I were still in the honeymoon stage of our relationship when we moved to Japan.  One day in the first months we were there, he went with me to a professional photo lab that had done a batch of prints for me which were washed out grey machine prints, not the handmade professional prints I’d expected, and I didn’t want to pay for them.  Instead of initiating a discussion with them, he flipped a switch, and went into a shouting rage.  I’d never seen anything like it before in public.  The poor Japanese, for whom any conflict is anathema, were trembling with fear.  As we walked out of the shop, I told myself that when, and not if, he turned that violence against me it was going to be physical and extreme: “Get out as quickly as you can, before anything happens,” I told myself.  However, leaving a relationship which is really wonderful, and potentially, but not yet violent, isn’t easy to do.  So I told myself to do it while the memory of this event was still vivid in my mind.  

I’d always told myself, as everyone does, that if a man were violent, I would leave.  Some woman, perhaps especially well-educated professional women think: “It will never happen to me.”  What nobody knows is what they will actually do versus what they think they will do.  And I know from having been attacked more than once, that knowing how you handled an extreme situation once doesn’t indicate how you’ll handle it a second time.  Anyway, I couldn’t leave Loïc immediately because we were still living in the hotel which has company was paying for, and I had no money of my own.  I’d found a job, but there was a two month delay before it started, and once I started working, it would take months to save up to get a place of my own for airfare and shipping.  And then there was the question of where to go.  My belongings were all in France, and I preferred the idea of returning there than to the US, but I didn’t have a work visa for France, but then I didn’t have a clue what I’d do in the US.  Most of all I wanted to stay in Japan, but the obstacles to doing so were enormous.  There was time to think it through, or so I hoped.

When I mention that my ex was violent, most people assume that it was in the heat of an argument, and when I say: “No, not at all.  Usually we weren’t even arguing,” they reply: “Oh, well then was he an alcoholic?”   “No, he was a tea toatler.”  From what I’ve read on domestic violence, what it always comes down to is the issue of control.  The first time Loïc was violent it cold-blooded and pre-meditated.  Clearly, he had an agenda, as I was able to observe in later incidents where he tried to assert his superiority and power.

Loïc worked into the wee hours of the night and on weekends, whereas I worked a light schedule, so naturally I was in charge of all household duties, and keeping the apartment tidy.  He started leaving his socks around and snapping at me to pick them up, which caused some discord because while I was happy to clean, I felt he could pick up his own socks, and that he was leaving them around deliberately.  When we went to bed each night, we each folded our clothes and set them down on our sides of the futon.  One night he ordered me to put my clothes in the closet.  When I pointed out that his clothes were also next to the futon, he said we weren’t discussing them, we we discussing mine, and then ordered me again to put my clothes away.  When I said I wasn’t there to follow his orders, he lept up, pinned me down, and began pounding his fist on my head while pulling my hair upwards, creating a torsion in my neck, which threw it out of line.  It was excruciatingly painful, worse than any pain I’d experienced, worse than when I’d been attacked by two men and had my head kicked in with a steel toed boot, because the beating went on and on.  He just wouldn’t stop.  I screamed and screamed as long and loudly as I could, afraid for my life.  Still he didn’t stop.  “Why haven’t the neighbours come?  Why haven’t the police come?  It’s a five minute walk from the police station to here, they should be here by now!  They’re not coming!  Will he ever stop?”  When he did finally stop, it really was a good five minutes that he’d beaten me, but with that level of pain it seemed like a hell of a lot longer.  All he said afterwards was that it was my fault, because I wasn’t French, a French woman would have been more obedient.  I seriously doubt that, but it wasn’t a random excuse.  The beating was a gambit to gain control over me by instilling fear into me.

I went into a severe state of shock that lasted for a good week and then transformed into a profound depressive state that made it nearly impossible to think through my situation.  I was half way around the world from both my homes, didn’t yet have any friends with whom to talk, and I didn’t contact my parents because I was sure that they wouldn’t be helpful.  The only person to whom I spoke of it was my osteopath.  The next time I went in for an appointment to work on my bad hip, he looked at me and asked me what had happened to my neck.  It was amazing that he was able to see that from across the room.  Embarrassed, I replied that I’d taken a bad blow to my head during karate practice.  He approached, took a good look at my neck, and said: “No, someone took your head and twisted it around.”  We didn’t talk much more about it, he just switched to working on my neck instead of my hip.

I’d had tinnitus, a ringing in my ears, since I was thirteen.  It started the same day my migraines started, and has never stopped since.  It’s said to be in your ears, but I hear it as localised in my head not my ears.  Anyway, after the beating, it became horribly loud, erratic, and unbalanced to the side that the beating had been on.  To this day it is louder on the left side of my head. But something much deeper down inside myself broke.  I can’t say what exactly, I just have the word “broken” to describe it.  I’ve healed a lot since then, but “broken” is still there, the healing is not complete.

mercredi 30 novembre 2011


Central to being Sonia is self-acceptance.  I read about self-acceptance in the AA Daily Reflections book:

"I pray for the willingness to remember that I am a child of God, a divine soul in human form, and that my most basic and urgent life-task is to accept, know, love and nurture myself. As I accept myself, I am accepting God’s will. As I know and love myself, I am knowing and loving God. As I nurture myself I am acting on God’s guidance.  I pray for the willingness to let go of my arrogant self-criticism, and to praise God by humbly accepting and caring for myself.”

To remain sober it is necessary to be of service to others.  But you cannot be truly of service to others if you do not love yourself, are not of service to yourself.  Drinking alcoholically is intrinsically self-destructive.  My drinking was self-destructive to the extreme.  Lots of people come into the program and get sober right away or shortly after, some of us go through years of relapsing before we get sober.  I strongly suspect that one of the reasons I have relapsed so many times is that I have a strong penchant for self-destructiveness, because I’m much more comfortable with suffering, which is familiar, than with feeling well, which feels odd--I haven’t really felt that I deserve to feel that way.  I have plenty of other self-destructive traits, which need to be removed from my life just like alcohol was.  The most urgent task in early sobriety for me, has been learning to take care of myself.  Like many an alcoholic, I’ve had trouble with eating properly, personal hygiene, beating myself up over small things, negative thinking and so on.

On the topic of self-nuturing, one day when I was in psychoanlysis, working on the issue of not feeding myself even when extremely hunger, but happily eating if fed (so not anorexic), I mentioned the issue to Hervé, who I’d just begun seeing.  He looked at me thoughtfully and replied: “Imagine you are holding a baby which is hungry, and you are that baby, what would you do?”  I immediately visualized throwing a baby to the ground and shouting: “I don’t want this baby.”  No wonder I have such trouble feeding myself!  I’ve been throwing myself to the ground, and rejecting myself, for years.  To come to believe that I am a child of God, whose “most urgent life-task is to accept, know, love, and nurture myself,” takes a giant leap of faith for me.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be one giant leap.  Each day, it takes a concentrated effort on my part to take care of myself in so many ways that I can’t possibly concentrate on acquiring them all at once.  Baby steps, I must remind myself constantly, baby steps.  Through prayer and taking these baby steps on a daily basis, I will be able to make that leap gradually, I will come to fully come to believe that I am a child of God.  When I can fully accept myself, and be truly of service to others, all will be right.