The email entitled “.”

Toward the end of July, just before his birthday (also about a week before we broke up the first time) when the tension was really building up, I emailed both of my sisters and a friend I’ve known most of my life to try to open up to them about what was going on, and what I’d recently ‘learned’ about myself. We’d been together about nine months at this point.

Here is part of the email I sent:

Basically, I’ve been doing things for a long time that are convenient for me, and disregard how that may affect others. I’ve done a lot of things that have hurt [the lion], because I always put myself first. From the little things to the big things. I know how to protect myself, but I don’t know how to protect others. 

I want to be like Scrooge on Xmas morning. I want to put him first – that’s what he’s been doing for me. I may grumble about him, but that’s the Japanese in me that’s talking. He’s actually been doing his best to help me grow up and become a better person, even though I’ve resisted a lot. And I’ve hurt him a lot. I hurt him today. He’s probably one of the most genuine people out there, and he cares about everything. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s probably the best thing that’s happened to me in a really long time or perhaps ever, and I don’t want to waste the chance to keep him because I continue to think only about myself.

The damage is done and it is already too late, but I still want to try. I’ve been losing him from the start because I’ve been putting myself first. I have been causing him a lot of damage, and I still did that today. 

I didn’t know that I’m not compassionate; I didn’t know that I was shallow; I didn’t know that I was self-centred. It’s finally starting to sink in, and this has to cause drastic changes very fast or I’ll lose him and any hope of becoming kind in the real sense. It’s a deep-rooted problem because I still often don’t see what I’m doing wrong. I’ve been denying it for 9 months, and even now that I can see it better, it’s still after the damage has been done (and he needs to help me see this damage – all the time).  

I need help to be on track. To make sure I’m honest, and that I’m putting him first. To make sure I put myself in his position to see what he’s seeing and what he’s thinking so that I can stop adding to his stress, stop lying, and stop hurting him

But it’s too late and I’ve done a lot of damage. He always cleans up after me, and takes the cut. And he’s tired of putting up with it for 9 months. 

Theoretically it was possible to stay happy with him, but if I can’t do anything but seek attention from everyone, then it would never work. 

I didn’t receive any email responses.

“Uhh, I don’t know” was all I could say at the time. Today, I know better.

“[…] And these notions of masculinity that you have a right to a woman’s body…that women are of less value and that you have a privilege, that’s almost a birthright.”

I heard these words on the radio, and couldn’t help but nod. Ah, yes… Spoken straight from the horses’s mouth. Today’s episode of CBC’s Out in the Open was about different aspects and forms of consent. At least this guy knew enough to put words to the behaviour that so many do, but can’t necessarily identify why.

After I left the lion, I lived with my friend, Kei, for 2.5 months. She is now the standard to which I measure the quality (and depth) of friendships. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to her for everything she has done and continues to do for me.

She asked me one day, “Did he ever rape you?”

I looked at her from the adjoining room, somewhat surprised by the question. “Uhh, I don’t know” was all I could say.

“If it’s not a clear ‘no’, then it’s a ‘yes’.” She always has the best answers.

I’d been sexually assaulted more than once, by guys I called friends. I’d never done anything about it though, for multiple reasons: cultural norms and expectations, victim blaming, lack of self-confidence, embarrassment, not wanting to cause any ‘disruption’. I usually pretended nothing happened and moved on with life.

After being with the lion though, I couldn’t just move on. As what happened sunk in, I lost interest in and felt disgusted by anything sexual – jokes, TV/movie scenes, even being touched by any male creature (and this included pet dogs for a while). I was afraid of all men, until finally, I was able to be okay around men who were very obviously in love and devoted their parters. After that, my ‘safe’ male group started to include men who I’d known for a very long time. Their behaviour had established a reputation I deemed as safe. And finally, guys who were very obviously not interested in me for any reason became okay too. It went in this order, and it took time.

Even now, men who are interested in me, and men who try to touch me are automatically labelled as dangerous. Don’t touch me, don’t step into my bubble, don’t stand behind me. I constantly test them (even if they don’t know it). I watch their movements. I listen to their words. I watch their reactions. How do I know they’re not suddenly going to put their arm around my shoulder? Try to hug me? Try to grab any part of my body? I don’t know, that’s the thing. And that’s why I don’t trust them, that’s why I keep my distance, that’s why I cover up, that’s why I don’t want any curves. If only my body was just a rectangle with a head, arms and legs…

Kei and I talked after I gave her that answer. I told her what had happened on that one occasion that stood out the most. I actually looked up the definition of rape too, and that’s when I realized, “Oh, okay, yeah. I am a rape survivor… hm”. It’s a label I don’t like, and I still struggle with it. Just because you’re in a relationship, or just because you’re living with your partner doesn’t automatically mean it’s always an active, enthusiastic ‘yes’.

I’ve had to read about rape, sexual assault and harassment, to help myself understand, and to make up for the lack of open discussion I’ve had with anyone, really. One main reason it happens is power and control, but there’s no harm in learning more.

The guy being interviewed on the radio owned up to what he did. I wonder how often that happens. I want to call him ‘brave’, but what he did should be normal.

Jian Ghomeshi. Brock Turner. These are just two cases that were on the news as I was grappling with my own situation. It made me sick. It made me shake. It made me rage. I had no words to describe the fire in me that burned with disgust and hate, not only for the assault itself, but for the people who tried to protect them and lessen the severity of their behaviour, their ideology… Our society.

“[…] I don’t know where to start. When I saw your name in my inbox, my spine went cold […]”, he said through the radio. I’ll be reading their book, South of Forgiveness, soon enough.

Please, take some time to check out the links. It could help you protect a loved one. It could help you protect someone, anyone, perhaps even yourself.

 

“Why didn’t you just leave?”

I’ve been lucky – I don’t recall anyone asking me this awful question.

If you’re tempted to ask someone, don’t.

To leave or not to leave? That is not the question. That’s just not how it works.

Reading and researching helped me understand and better explain the situation to myself, often because I hadn’t had the patience or grace (and often still don’t) to sit down and try to show someone (who often just won’t get it) how it’s not that simple. I haven’t been able to let myself be walked on by insensitive people. I haven’t had the strength to stay calm and collected while I describe what it’s like to someone who isn’t able to try on someone else’s shoes, let alone walk a mile in them.

Within a few months of leaving him, I stumbled across an article, Why I stayed in an Abusive Relationship for 11 Years, I watched a TED Talk, Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave, and they helped me put words to my murky, tangled emotions. A few months after that, I found, read, and then purchased a book: It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence. These and other readings helped me define ‘abuse’, and realize that yes, it had been bad. It helped me understand what had happened from a less emotional, and more academic perspective, which helped me a lot. And on top of that, I wasn’t the only one. It was a relief and also a horror. How many of us are out there?

What happened between the lion and I could’ve been worse, but there’s not much of a benefit thinking about it that way. Shouldn’t we all expect to be in abuse-free relationships with both ourselves and with those around us? The obvious answer is yes, but for some, it’s not so simple.

We stay for many different reasons.

Here’s a compiled list of 10 reasons why they didn’t leave.

In my case, the lion and I were both expats and he didn’t have the same access to the local language and culture as I did. I needed to help him with the mail, paying bills, doctor’s appointments. He was stressed because his work wasn’t going the way he wanted it to. I wasn’t being a good enough partner, so a lot of his stress and frustration was my fault. I was the only one he could rely on. If I pulled my weight, things would be better. He promised to never hit me again after my black eye – a promise he actually kept. He was getting depressed, and sometimes suicidal. He needed help. I had to be there for him. We had talked multiple times about building a life together. I had committed to him, I couldn’t just abandon him. Even if I did leave him, no one would want me anyway. I wasn’t worth much of any thing. My life with him was familiar, it was normal. Besides, I loved him. What would he do if I left? Who would he turn to? How would he deal with his frustration and stress?

Was I even worth ‘saving’ from this situation anyway?

But, after breaking up and getting back together twice, leave him I did.

 

器でした

自分が潰され
息をするに必要な酸素も無駄にしていると思って
この窮屈な体がなければ
私が消えれば
他の生き物のための酸素が少しでも多くなる。
私も楽になる。無になる。

…でも
自分がいなければこの人を受け止める器はどこの誰になるだろう?
その人も潰されるだろう。
だから
酸素の無駄だけれど
私が残ってこの人を
受け止めて
受け入れて
周りの人を守るための器でい続ける。

この言葉が
この手が
私に向けられている間は良いんだ。
この人の苦しみを
この人の怒りを
受け止めるのは私一人で良い。
周りの人が巻き込まれなければ
巻き添えにならなければ
それで良い。

ライオンから離れなれなかったのはこんな気持ちもあったからでした。結局は友達と家族のおかげで離れて、回復中だけどね。先は長いけど、でも良いんだ。生きているから。

Let there be music, let there be dance

Most people probably don’t think about whether they deserve to be breathing or not.

For a while, I didn’t feel worthy of consuming the oxygen I needed to breathe, to exist. I was wasting it on my life, when there are so many other living things out there that could make better use of it.

I didn’t know how many times I questioned why I was wasting oxygen.

Guilt is what kept me going initially. I overcame that and became worthy of the oxygen I breathe, but the music that had died within me took much, much longer to return. And even then, sometimes it was in me, sometimes it wasn’t. Singing had been my passion, my stress release, my self-expression, my life force. But the music that I’d always had died while I was with the lion. I was in shock when I realized my music was gone. It’s been a struggle to bring it back, but it’s coming.

Last fall, I watched my sister dance in the kitchen and surprised myself when I realized I was tempted to ask her, “How do you have the confidence to do that?” The sudden enlightenment slapped me in the face. Singing and dancing require a certain amount of self-love and self-confidence. I didn’t have that. I had no dancing, and very little music within.

Recently, I’m singing more. I can listen to music, and I want to join in. I can even sing with my sisters and my father. I’m not ashamed to take up physical space, to take up sound space. Today, I actually danced a little bit while preparing dinner in the kitchen. I was alone, but I danced. I had the confidence. I had the love.

When I broke the silence online

It wasn’t until about 6 months after I left him that I finally told my online community. I thought about it for a long time, wrote a post, re-wrote, re-wrote again, edited, thought about it, edited some more, and thought about it again… for about a month. It was visible only to me, until I made it available to most of my friend connections (‘most’ being the key word here). I was nervous, to say the least. The lion and I were still connected online at this point, even though we hadn’t been talking in at least a few months.

The outpouring of love I received was overwhelming. They took the time to write responses, to write to me privately. The notifications kept coming for days. Most of these people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years. I’d already lived abroad for 3.5 years, after all.

Most people don’t talk about abuse and extreme pain they’ve endured. Maybe they’re embarrassed, maybe they’re scared, maybe they don’t know you can talk about it. But I didn’t want to be like that. I want others to know that it’s okay to talk, it’s okay to share stories and to support each other.

So, on August 2, 2016, I broke the silence online with this bilingual post:

One year ago, I was doing everything I could to hide a black eye with make-up, trying to protect the person who’d given me both of those things (in that particular order).
I was contemplating the value of my existence.
So much love and gratitude to those to pulled me out, to those who showed me I’m worth something.

ちょうど1年前、私は目の周りの黒いあざを化粧で必死に隠そうとしていた。あざも化粧も同じ人にもらったモノ。その人を守るのが一番大事だと思っていた。自分の命はべつにどうでも良いって思うようになっていた。
そんなシチュエーションから私を引っ張り出し、サポートしてくれた人に心からの感謝です。

And there was so much positive feedback that I couldn’t do nothing, I had to say something. So 18 days later, I did:

Thank you to everyone who commented, reacted, and/or sent a private message about this post.
Thank you for letting me say something. Thank you for accepting it so openly and warmly. Thank you for melting away the fear and nervousness about breaking the silence in the first place. Thank you for your kind words.

And with this, I knew that yes, it is okay to talk.

She cried for me (and she’s not the only one who has)

Toronto is presently wrapping up Hot Docs, a documentary film festival. A film-maker friend was here for this event.

I was in line, waiting for rush tickets to see a film when she came out to join me. I’m not very good with crowds anymore, I run out of energy pretty quickly in certain situations, and I’ve only met her a few times, but if there was ever a kindred spirit, it would be her. Yuki. Technically speaking, we barely know each other and yet I feel like I’ve known her forever.

She came to meet me in line, but something wasn’t quite right. She’d just seen a difficult film, and it wasn’t until the film was over that it had really hit her. Figuratively speaking, of course. She wasn’t sure it would be good for me to hear about it, but I assured her I’d be okay.

She’d seen A Better Man, and it had hit a bit too close to home.

She cried for me.

She cried for other women who’ve been in abusive relationships.

We stood in line, hugging. She’s such a beautiful human.

I often have a difficult time grasping how lucky I am. She’s not the only person who has cried for me. Multiple friends have cried for me. They’ve been angry for me. They’ve stood up for me.

The solidarity, the compassion, the love… I can’t always wrap my head around it. I can’t say I deserve it.

She later said it’s me that attracts these loving people. Although it’s quite the compliment, it also must be me that attracted the lion… no?

By starting this blog, I’ve already been told I’m brave. By sharing my story, I’ve had people open up and share theirs. We’ve shared tears. The pain that some people carry around is incredible. It’s heart-wrenching.

A Better Man will be playing in Toronto again next month, Yuki tells me. I read the film description, and I’m not sure I’m ready… but we’ll see how I feel closer to the date. If anyone is brave, it’s the woman who decided to put this film together. I wondered what the lion would think. If we were in their position, what would the lion have done? What would he have said? In my mind, I stretched out my arm toward him but it wasn’t confident or long enough to reach… I could see him clearly, but he was just a bit too far away.

***

And for anyone interested, this is the film I was in line to get rush tickets for: http://www.myenemymybrothermovie.com (It was also on CBC Radio Ideas: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/enemies-and-angels-opposing-soldiers-who-saved-each-other-1.2914233). Pretty incredible story…

Amnesia

Toward the end of July 2015, when things were pretty bad, I remember in the evenings after work (we worked in the same building, only one floor apart, and we lived together) the lion would lecture me on the balcony. He chain smoked, and often had a drink not too far from his side. We would talk. He would talk. Sometimes I’d try to get away, by suggesting food or doing laundry. Sometimes I’d try to close the door on my emotions. I often got in trouble for doing this though. I wasn’t paying attention. My priorities were in the wrong order. Here he was, not doing his own work so he could help me become a better person. I was creating problems left, right, and centre. I was behaving like I was the centre of the universe. I only cared about myself. I lacked empathy. I enjoyed his pain and suffering. There was proof for this everywhere. He knew I was trying to be better, but I still had a long way to go. And he was only doing what was best for me.

Sometimes things went well, and we’d head to bed around 1 or 2am. Other times, it would be much, much later. On a bad night that lasted into the morning, we went back to work after half an hour of sleep. And I knew another night with the same speech was waiting for me at the end of that day too. I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t hate it. It was all for me, so I could learn to be a better, kinder, compassionate person.

On one of those days, the lion sent me a message during work hours (as he did) and tested me: “What did I tell you last night?” I tried to remember, but I had no memory of what he’d said. I knew we’d been talking on the balcony. I knew what the take-away messages had been. I was a slow learner so the messages were basically the same. But what did he say? I don’t know; I don’t remember. I – I don’t remember. But it was just last night. How could I not remember?

I forgot more than once. Sometimes, I would go back in our message history to try to remind myself, or I’d ask him to tell me again. I practically studied his words at times, because I knew I may forget. I wanted him to know I was taking it seriously. I wasn’t forgetting on purpose.

As time went by, and especially after I’d left him, I realized there was a lot that I’d forgotten. Parts or sometimes whole days were missing.

A number of these memories have since come back in flashes, triggered by words, smells, colours, situations.

It turns out, memory loss is a real thing. Not just regular loss of memory – which is totally normal – but in this case, situation-specific amnesia or dissociative amnesia. It’s a form of memory loss that results from an emotionally traumatic situation, and it’s a symptom of/can occur alongside PTSD. It’s a survival mechanism and in some cases, it develops as an alternative to suicide.

The brain is a fascinating thing. In some ways, memory – or lack thereof – probably helped me. But when the lion knew I’d forgotten important things, he was not pleased, and that was not good.