My Grande Mis-Comparison Between Mental Episodes and Abuse - OC87 Recovery Diaries

My Grande Mis-Comparison Between Mental Episodes and Abuse


Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:

The last time I saw you was in court. You refused to look at me, instead you stared at the brick wall just beside the door we were going to enter to hear your plea. This was the very first last time that I felt my power had exceeded yours. Your step-mom was also facing the bricks, rubbing the small of your back and I wondered where your real mom was. I assumed that she was too embarrassed to hear you plead guilty to hitting a woman. It seemed odd that you needed comfort, knowing what you had done to me.

You proposed to me in a restaurant in front of a lot of clapping people, and I felt an obligation to say yes. You proposed to me in this way—with no option to say no in front of all those smiling people. So I forced a smile, and I said yes. Everyone clapped for us when you bent down on one knee, and I then felt glued to you. We were the couple who’d just gotten engaged; we weren’t you and me separately anymore. There was a sense of significant loss. The woman I had built myself into was now lost. She silently slipped away like she had never even existed. All of my accomplishments now blended into you and turned gray from the pressure you had over me.

If I’d said no to you—there, at the restaurant—the clapping would have abruptly stopped. The diners would have looked down at their tables to spare you the embarrassment. They would have eventually gone back to their feasts, and to their wine, and to their friendly conversations. We would have sat in silence, and then we would have heard the odd laugh. I would have wondered what they were talking about that made them laugh in that way, and I would have wondered if I would ever laugh that way again.

If I’d said no to you, I would have needed to be still on the drive home from the restaurant—if you’d even have let me into your car. If I’d said no, the ride home would have been silent. You knew I needed to talk things through, and it was the ultimate punishment for me to be silent and still.

Do you remember when we got in that huge fight in the parking lot at The Home Depot? First you dumped me, and then you dumped my gym bag as you screeched out of the parking lot. I didn’t know you’d dumped my bag. And by the time I walked home, someone had called our landline from the gym, saying my bag had been abandoned at The Home Depot.

The caller failed to mention that I’d also been abandoned.

I walked home that day at a pace too fast for my body to keep up with—one fueled by anger and grief. A grief so durable that it was hiding in my anger. I grieved what I thought we had at home, the relationship I thought we were both working toward. I thought we were sacrificing equal amounts of ourselves, until we weren’t. Until I noticed that my effort was being taxed. And you were taking more than I was getting.

It was hard for others to understand why I stayed through your raging outbursts. I wasn’t abused as a child, I wasn’t modeled on difficult relationships. My parents were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met, and my grandparents a close second. It just goes to show that stereotypes aren’t always fitting. I wasn’t asking for it and just because I’m well educated, with a job and lots of friends—doesn’t mean I don’t need help.

I was diagnosed with severe OCD when I was just a child and in my teens with major depressive disorder. I would have episodes that would leave me bedridden for months. I looked at your rage like one of my episodes. I wouldn’t want you to leave me when I was down. So in turn, I didn’t leave you. I tried to help you navigate through these awful behaviours, even when my face got in the way. I looked at your temper as a starting point for a massive correction.

When I met you during a beach vacation in Aruba, one of the first things you made sure that I heard from you was that you were a freemason. You were in an exclusive club that reminded me of the Boy Scouts for men. You mentioned all of the charity work you had done with the masons. This title made me feel confident about your then-glowing personality. I had more respect and interest in you because of your given title because why would the freemason society let in someone with such crass intentions?

If I’d said no that day at the restaurant, the silence would have continued at our house until I angered you enough that you’d hold me down on the bed or push me up against the wall until my head turned sideways from the pressure.

I encouraged the rage to get it over with. I learned that if you didn’t get it out of your system all at once, it would collect all night, festering and turning from liquid to rock.

And the next day, that rock hurt.

All this atrocity was from the same boy who’d just asked for my hand. And you would have taken my hand for your own. You would have taken it to pull me with you so you would never lose me. So that I could never be away from you. My hand would become a leash. And when you, my master, asked if I wanted to go for a walk, I would have to say yes because you had my hand. And if I’d said no, that hand, or more, would be hurt.

I could not tell you the emotional day the abuse started. And if I asked you, you would say it never happened at all.

Unless you saw the pictures. You can’t gaslight the pictures.

You started with a small push. It was irritating. And it was odd for you to touch me in the middle of an argument. You knew my body is sensitive when I’m having anxiety. Even a brush through my hair is impossible when I’m feeling like this.

Then you punched my shoulder from behind. Do you remember how much that hurt me?

When we got into an argument and I wanted to leave the house, you wouldn’t let me. Why wouldn’t you let me go? You would hold me there. You used yourself to create a wall, to block me, like you owned me.

You blocked me like you would block a dog from getting loose. I just wanted to leave. I wanted to breathe the air outside that house. I wanted to reminisce about the times when it felt like you loved me, when you pressed your body on top of mine and needed me for that. I wanted to feel anything but that emptiness that can be cured only by cutting. But you weren’t worth the slices on the side of my wrist. You weren’t worth the marks they left.

You would watch me as I tried to get up off the floor, and I would hear a voice that said, This is your life now, and we will live it together. And I could not tell if it was your voice or mine.

Did you hear it too?

You would hold me down and show me that I could not get up, that I needed your help, always.

The repetition is what’s hard to describe.

It felt wrong the first time you pushed me hard. But as you kept doing it, I sort of lost all credibility in saying that it was wrong and had been wrong the whole time. I think you felt odd the first time as well. I think you felt pompous and found it addictive. The desire to be above someone must stem from your childhood. You said you felt like you were never enough for them, for your split family. You always felt like you had to choose between two lives, between two parents.

You never had enough strength, so you took away mine.

I heard myself say it too much in my head: This isn’t right. This isn’t how I want to live my life. But I let that push go, and then the next. And then, when it happened again, it didn’t seem as bad.

Each time the abuse took place, your day just went on from there. It was confusing to me that you looked fine after doing that to me. I wonder when your grandiose feeling left. I wonder if you felt it leave or if it just happened suddenly, and it was gone.

When you punched me in a covered place—deep under my shirt and in the middle of my back, where it couldn’t accidently show—I felt like you did it for me and you to see, like it was a secret between us that would bring us closer. But then you’d hug me and press your body into me like you needed me, and then we’d have hard and fast sex that sometimes hurt me. But the memory of how bad it was would just slip away because it had nothing to grow on. There was no evidence that there had been a struggle besides the memories in my head.

Why would someone like you, who loved me so much, do something like that? Then I started to believe it was all in my head. Then the gaslighting began.

Maybe, I thought, this is how my life is going to be.

We got into a fight about nothing or some trivial comment that made you feel like less of a man. I did like to entice you sometimes, and you knew that. I wanted to get the rush of feeling higher than you were, to feel what you felt when I was on the floor looking up at you. You grabbed me and held me down. But somehow, I flipped you so that your back was on the bed and I was on top of you. Instinctively, I put my hands around your neck and pressed. I hesitated, then pulled back. And you yelled at me. Do you remember what you said?

You said, “Do it.”

And I released, and you laughed.

The night we ended—when everything caught up to us—we were driving in my orange SUV to the tattoo shop. It was going to be my first ink. I’d hit a mile marker in my OCD therapy in regard to my fear of warts and bare feet. My wart had been removed from my left foot a few years before, and since something left, I wanted to add something that I loved—something that would make me smile and feel deeply all the self-confidence that had been added to my pieces. I wanted a reminder of all the challenging work I’d put into this therapy.

Beating this fear was a lifetime accomplishment. The feelings were intense, and I felt vulnerable in areas I didn’t think I would ever emerge from. I learned that the battle in me exposed new growth. I wanted to remember this. I wanted to get a permanent badge on the top of my left foot so I could look at it and remember the times when I needed to line the floor with towels so I could safely get from my own room to the bathroom. I wanted to always remember the nights I’d spent worrying and the days I’d spent avoiding. I wanted to remember this time in my life as a force I’d played over with and won.

As we drove to the tattoo parlor, I had a piece of white paper on the floor next to me. On it was a script design that said Strength. It was to be permanently curled onto my left foot, where I’d had the wart that started this whole spiral. Part of me still thinks you could not handle me being stronger. Part of me wonders if you were enraged with my progress and infuriated that I was just a little more confident and more aware of my own boundaries than before.


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I could feel your rage building up in my chest that day. I was sucking up all your feelings through my nose, and they settled deep in me. I don’t remember what words were said, or if there were words, or if we were just having a conversation with our body language. The air you were repelling was pure arrogance. It pummeled through me even before your skin touched me. Your whole sense of self was off.

How did you feel?

I tried to stay out of your way when you got like this—when your face was red and your black widow’s peak angles were just a bit sharper. Sometimes, it took all my energy to stay away from you and make sure things around you were perfect. That was my job. To make sure you were between neutral and happy.

I was constantly mediating your moods.

My decision to turn the car around without getting the tattoo was me waving a flag to let the war begin. I didn’t want the day to be remembered like that—to be remembered for your rage. I wanted to get this tattoo by myself. I didn’t want your negative colors mixing with my newly bright ones.

You were livid. Did you know that you tilt your head down when you’re angry?

I parked my SUV in our gravel driveway. I feared you, so I ran ahead of you into our house and locked our front door behind me. I paused with my back against the glass panes. I could feel you pounding it with closed fists. Your force was amped with adrenaline, and I thought the glass I was leaning against would soon shatter from the pressure.

I wanted you to cool down before you came in. You banged again, and your eyes were warning me as I turned to look at you. I didn’t want to open the door just yet, but I didn’t want the fire within you to grow.

It was a quick decision.

I twisted the lock open, and you lunged in. You were staring through me. It all happened so quickly, and I thought I could calm you down. I’d done it before.

You grabbed my neck between your thumb and forefinger, and you pinned me up against the wall. I screamed just before you tightened your grip, and no one heard me. You looked appalled when you heard that noise come out of me. I wonder if that’s when it got real for you.

I thought I was done.

Then you added your second hand, but you didn’t tighten your grip, which was odd because you were looking right into me. Our eyes met, and yours changed from the deepest black to the lightest blue. Then your cheeks softened and indented your jawline.

You have beautiful eyes. It was the first thing I noticed about you. I think I became dangerous to you, with the way I didn’t need your approval anymore.

In my mind lay everything you’d ever done to me that I didn’t deserve. Every time you forced my pieces out or curled them up in an unnatural way.

Then something happened. I’m not sure what, but I felt a lot of pressure and my windpipe closed. I fell to the ground, and your hands were no longer attached to me. They released.

Why did you choose then to release me?

My diamond engagement ring rolled along our hardwood floor. You stood there staring at it, watching it in slow motion. It had always been too big for me, but I didn’t want to tell you it was the wrong size. It rolled to the spiral staircase and bounced off the wall. Then it stopped and was still. The diamonds made a sort of dead sound, with no echo. It was no longer spinning. It was emotionally dented.

I ran upstairs to find a phone, and you followed me, but not as quickly as you could have. I think maybe you were processing what you’d just done, what your hands had done. I wonder if they felt like yours, or if they were just an extension of you, like my feet were to me. I wonder if you could feel their pulse.

You saw me run into our bathroom, and I locked the door behind me. I took my clothes off and sat on the floor of the shower. Then I let the hot water wash away everything that had just happened.

All I know how to do is to be curled and warm and wet when my body is in fight-or-flight mode. I often did this after you restrained me. I would curl up there to be by myself, undisturbed. This was my space. I crossed my legs, so my knees were piercing my chin and my hands were tied in a tight knot beneath me.

I hummed, and I rocked, and I let a song play in my head. I grabbed the back of my skull, my hair between my knuckles, and I pulled back hard as the water dripped away from my face and down through my legs. I rocked back and forth lightly so the experience that had just happened would not settle in me just yet.

My voice teetered as I tried to keep up with “O-o-h Child,” the song my mother sang to me when I was young as she caressed my face with her fingers and gently pulled my hair back behind my ears. I never told you this about this song—a part of me that I wanted to keep just for myself.

I was hoping you’d left me. I wanted you to be gone when I lifted myself back up. When I turned the shower off, I could not hear you pacing. I peeked out and saw you standing in the double doors that led into this huge master bedroom that we didn’t need. You watched me run to the other side of the bed and grab the cordless phone to call Charlotte, who lived just around the corner. I think you knew I would call her. She was so close.

I needed to get outside. I was breathing in your air, this arrogant air that would soon be full of compassion, when you would soon want me to be close to you so you could undo everything you’d just done. You would want to kiss me gently on the side of my neck and rock hard on top of me until you felt better.

I walked toward you, and I tried to reason with you. But you held me at the doors with your body, which now seemed muted. It seemed like you’d lost your grandiose spirit, like it had been sucked out of you and I was looking at what was left over. You were a leftover. You knew it was over as much as I did. So why did you hold me there? I was letting my wings dry after being in that cocoon for so long.

What happened next was pure chaos.

I burst open, enraged. Then I stormed through you. I felt like I was breaking down your belief about me. I kicked and punched my way through you, and it felt so freeing.

I was free. You let me go.

During those whole five years we spent together, I thought I was welding us back together. I thought I was putting the pieces back in you. But what I was really doing was carving pieces out of myself to build you up.

When I ran down the stairs, I knew you wouldn’t follow me. I carried all my pieces with me, not letting anything fall out because they were mine, and with me they would stay.

I hated you. I really hated you, but I didn’t know how to stop loving you in that moment. Our pieces were so intertwined, and losing you was like losing a blood supply. Underneath your pretend shield, you were still this fragile being, and so was I. And we were supposed to heal together.

I told the police officer that responded to my call that I hit you on your quad and somewhere around your collarbone during the chaos. He was kind and didn’t rush me or accuse me. He just let me talk. He felt like a peer, and not someone that was judging my intentions. He told me that in a few hours, I would want to change my mind and not go through with the charges. He said that when that happened, I should call him. He handed me his card, and I put it beside the portable phone on the table beside my bed—the same phone I’d used to call Charlotte.

After a few hours passed, I started to feel like I was making a huge mistake. I loved you; we were supposed to get married. I’d said yes to you in front of all those clapping people. My emotions pulled me back and forth.

The police officer was right.

I called him, and he recited my statement to me. He used the same words I’d said to him just hours before. He spoke vividly about how I’d been choked and how people who are willing to choke others don’t have a lot of will to stop on their own. He scared me enough to be able to remember the event clearly. He removed the part where I felt it was my responsibility to protect you. He talked me down. He talked me down a few times that night. I’d wake up and hit redial, and he was there, talking me down again.

As I healed, the bruises around my collarbone and neck created fluid art that flowed less into each other, morphing into something more beautiful than the day before. I made it out from under you, and this was what freedom looks like. I sat in front of my mirror and ran my fingertips along where your hand had laid into me. Although my fingertips left just a whisper, yours would take a while to work through.

The judge called us into chambers. I sat directly behind you which confused the judge into thinking that I had changed my mind about the charge. I just wanted to see you sweat. I wanted to see the tears run irresponsibly down your cheeks.

Six weeks after the incident, I was driving into town to meet my cousin. It was my first time out alone since that night. My bruises were still anchored on my neck, so I was wearing a blue turtleneck that I kept pulling at. I got fewer questions if I was covered. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I used far too many spoons comforting other people about my incident. I knew they wanted to ask questions; I know I would have had some if the situation were reversed. But I had no answers. You left me with no answers. It was hard to accept, but it was the only way for me to move on.

I was driving down Main Street, and the sidewalks were flooded with people walking to the rowing regatta. I should have taken the back roads. You would have been enraged by the traffic and screeched down a side street to try and avoid it. The stupid red dice hanging on your dash mirror would have bounced around.

I pulled up to the four-way stop, and a police officer was there directing traffic. I rolled my window down. It was the officer from that night we ended. He recognized me with no pity in his face. I think he felt my freedom. He asked if I was going back to you, and I smiled and raised my head. And I told him no. He smiled back and cleared traffic so I could turn left into my cousin’s driveway.

I think he knew he saved me that night.

You showed me growth in myself, but I’m not giving you credit. I found myself as soon as you left that day. The gray shadow slipped out from under us and came back to me as a million different colours. I sifted through the prismatic sentiments to find exactly who I was looking for.

And I’ve loved her fiercely ever since.

​EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | SITE ORIGINATOR: Bud Clayman



Running from a flood of mental illnesses, Ashley Marie Berry shares her raw, intimate journals from psychiatric stays, moments trying to find the sunlight, and the callous feelings of not wanting to be here anymore in her memoir ‘Separate Things’. She’s learning that molding herself into this “normal” world isn’t the same as living in it. She shares her stories in a very direct way that will only make you feel more compassionate toward those who are touched by this light.