There are days when I feel well, brave, and strong.
There are days when I feel proud of me.
When I eat right, drink water, and pray without ceasing.
There are days when I feel pretty.
Then something happens.
Something I didn’t see coming.
Something I could not prepare for.
Something accidental but still damaging.
Something that drags the past into the stark glare of the sun and rips my false sense of security to threads.
And all it takes is one word.
That one word annihilates 40 years of work in a matter of minutes.
And when it is uttered twice in a matter of weeks by someone who says they love me it hits as hard as a fist in my mouth.
It’s a tiny word, really. Only five simple letters. And yet it brings the past rushing to the present so quickly I lose my balance.
No one can catch me.
I just have to ride the reaction out.
The word that takes all my power away is this: a.b.u.s.e.
Myself and the Black Man who loves me have been working through our wounds in hopes of us being able to be and stay in a healthy long-term relationship.
I surrendered the relationship a few weeks ago due to broken boundaries. He declined my “no thank you.”
“I will take care of this. I love you, Venus. Can you give me time?”
I said, “Yes.”
“May I text you updates?”
I said, “Ok.”
He takes a deep breath and asks, with his heart in his voice.
“Do you love me?”
I feel my heart melt.
I softy confess, “Yes. Yes, I do love you.”
I can hear him exhale.
“That’s all I need.
I will take care of the behaviors that trigger you.
I am getting off the phone now.
I have work to do.”
Within 24 hours he had a new therapist that matched his needs as well as a Men’s support therapy group to address communicating with me.
He shifted his language and behavior in real ways and was accountable for his words and actions.
All was well.
We had a few rough moments but nothing like before, which made me feel emotionally safe.
I shared with him some of the violence I had experienced.
He listened with authentic empathy and compassion.
Then it happened.
Something happened that didn’t sit well with me and I shared it with him. Over in his world, my question landed for him in a way that shifted his behavior. The more he explained what happened, the more I felt like I was being blamed for his action.
The conversation escalated.
In truth, I can not recreate the conversation.
What I can say with absolute certainty is he used the word “abuse.”
I had just shared my background of violence.
What I heard was something to the effect of I wanted to be abused or I was teaching him how to abuse me.
Be very clear:
HE NEVER SAID ANY OF THIS.
He only used the word abuse.
I’m clear this is my trauma being triggered.
So please don’t turn him into the enemy.
This one is all me.
About a month ago he had used the term abuse in a written communication.
It triggered me then.
My logic: given the upset that word had caused in our relationship previously, to the point I walked away, why use that word ever again with me?
We went back and forth about it and he vehemently argued that he didn’t say what I heard or inferred from what he said.
He said I misunderstood.
I was making a mountain out of a mole hill.
I was wrong.
I kept saying I’m not lying.
I’m not crazy.
I’m not making this up.
He said he never said what I heard but he did say the word abuse.
He apologized and did his absolute best to clean it up.
But the spiral had started.
The door had been opened.
I was back at being 10 years old.
Momma said I lied.
I started to doubt my truth.
Maybe I misunderstood.
Maybe I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
Maybe I was wrong.
Same thing with my former spouse.
Maybe I misunderstood.
Maybe I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
Maybe I was wrong.
Now the same feeling of powerlessness, voicelessness, helplessness takes over me.
Now I can’t get out of bed.
I can’t fold my clothes.
I no longer want my company.
I resent being alive.
He is confused and scared.
He has no idea what to do.
I take full responsibility for whatever I did and said that would have him say that word to me: twice.
Once in terms of emotional violence; the other in terms of physical.
I talk to my therapist and asked: do I teach people how to abuse me?
We talked and she helped me see that it wasn’t the word that triggered me so deeply.
It was the feeling of being not believed.
As a child, my authentic truth was dismissed and discredited.
I had to suppress it in order to survive. The way that survival shows up in my life today is self-doubt.
I start to think and say it’s all my fault.
I must have done SOMETHING wrong.
I thought I was safe.
Maybe I am crazy.
Maybe you’re right.
Maybe I DID make it up to get attention.
Maybe I DID misunderstand.
Maybe I AM making a mountain out of a molehill.
(Deep pause. Searching my soul)
Maybe I AM lying.
(silence on the inside)
I feel myself turn into tears that quickly go down the drain.
I feel my tears turn to rage.
My body becomes brittle.
To taunt to touch.
He tries to reach for me in every way he can.
But I am no longer there.
I’m ten years old.
Locked in the bathroom.
Tub filled with scalding hot water.
She makes me run it myself.
She makes me wait.
I get so afraid I pee on myself.
She beat me with an extension cord.
To tenderize my flesh.
“You are a liar!
Larry would NEVER touch you!
You just want attention!
You ugly, stupid ass.
If it had been your sister, maybe.
She pants as she beats me.
“I should have aborted you when I had the chance!”
I’m in the fetal position on the bathroom floor.
My skin is bleeding and torn.
She grabs me by my hair and forces me to the tub.
“Momma I’m sorry.
It’s all my fault.”
She pushes my face close to the steaming hot water in the tub.
“Tell the truth!!
YOU LIED on Larry, didn’t you?
Tell the truth!!!!”
“YES MOMMA I LIED.”
I keep saying what she wants to hear in case she changes her mind.
“I made it all up.
I just wanted attention.
My tears mingle with the sweat and blood on my face.
Momma releases my head and gets a washcloth.
She starts washing the blood off my face.
“I love you, Venus. You brought this on yourself. I forgive you for lying.”
I say nothing.
I try to tell Him I am hurt.
What he hears is blame.
He can’t hear me.
When I am triggered, I resent being alive.
All of the darkness within comes up like bile from my soul to my mouth.
He doesn’t know me like this.
He doesn’t understand.
He doesn’t understand trauma.
He hears the letters: P.T.S.D, but has never been in a relationship with someone who lives with it.
He doesn’t realize I am fighting to be believed.
He hears criticism, not a cry for a hug.
That’s all it would have taken.
For him to hear me. Hug me. Keep letting me know HE had used a trigger word.
That HE was responsible for his actions instead of putting them on me.
That I had done nothing wrong but believed him when he told me I was safe.
Safe to say my truth and not having it used against me when he feels like I am blaming him.
He couldn’t hear me.
He said he didn’t recall saying things but if I said he said it, then it must be true.
The word “if” calls into question am I telling the truth.
I react to it.
I start to defend and explain myself.
I try to have him hear me.
He only hears invalidation.
That’s not what’s happening but because I have exhausted all of my emotional reserves, I can’t say it better than I am saying it at the moment.
He is right: I have been emotionally and physically abused.
Perhaps it’s in me to train people to abuse me.
Perhaps I’m not healed enough to be in a healthy and whole relationship.
Perhaps I never will be.
Perhaps the trauma of my life is total.
I can’t be loved by anyone but God.
Or perhaps this is the path to healing.
Perhaps the path to being healed and whole is to go back to that bathroom and pick my little girl self up off the floor and rock her.
“Babygirl, you didn’t lie about Larry.
You survived Momma.
You did nothing wrong, Venus.
You didn’t bring anything on yourself. You are pretty and smart.
I love you, Venus. I. Love. You.
Your truth is valid.
Even if other people don’t agree, believe you, or like what you say.”
I kiss Babygirl’s welts. With each kiss and caress of unconditional love, the scars heal.
“Venus, you did nothing wrong.
You are not to blame.
You are good.
You are kind.
You are honest.
You’re perfect, Venus, just the way you are.”
I add cold water to the tub and put it in a bubble bath.
“Don’t be afraid. I will not hurt you. I love you and love doesn’t hurt. Trust me, Venus. Please. Trust me with you.”
With the innocence that comes with children, she does. We get in the tub and I bathe her/me.
I wash our hair.
I moisturize us with cocoa butter.
“Say this with me Babygirl: I love me. I am good. I am honest. I accept me. I approve of me. I am pretty. I am smart. I matter.” And she does.
I sit her on the toilet seat and do her hair. She tells me funny stories of rolling down a hill in the neighborhood and how the grass made her itch.
She told me how she liked playing jacks more than playing marble.
Then she told me about Larry.
I stopped and listened with every cell in my body. Then I said to my precious baby girl, “I believe you.”
She stared at me as her eyes filled with tears. She then threw her tiny fragile body into my arms, hugged my neck tight, and sobbed.
I rocked her and stroked her back and hair.
I then whispered into her ear, “You are very brave.
You did everything right.
Even agreeing with Monma to stop her from hurting you.
See how smart you are?
It’s ok for you to speak.
You’re safe now. I’m here.
I will take care of you from now on.
You are mine and I love you to the moon and back!”
She smiles a shaky smile. There is trust in her eyes. I have loved away all the scars.
I hug my little girl self.
She whispers in my ear,
“Thank you for believing me.”
I hold her close, so close she merges with me and we become one.
I’m back in my home in downtown LA. Happy is sleeping right beside me. I caress his pillow-soft fur. He softly snores.
I think about allowing a Black Man to love me. I realize I have to heal traumas I have simply been managing.
When you let someone in, you are bound to get triggered, but that is the ONLY way to being whole.
It’s not his love that makes me whole. His love made me willing to look.
He gave me the love and safety I couldn’t give myself.
For that gift, I will always be grateful.
Who knew one word would fling the door wide open to my heart for me to love me?
Yes, I was abused.
I’m not reenacting it.
I am healing it.
I’m healing me.
That’s the greatest love of all.
By: Dr. Venus Opal Reese
Date: 11. 24.21