Lived Experience/Memoir / Time-specific

Here We Go Again: Leaving Another Abusive Atmosphere

Over the past couple of years, I have experienced a persistent and turbulent series of events that either threatened my housing security or effectively eliminated it. The past few months in my most recently terminated living arrangement are no exception—having not only threatened my housing security over the most superficially trivial of issues, but also seriously impairing my emotional well-being over the very same, and as a result, also silencing my voice as a writer and a human being. And none of these are trivial matters at all. Today, I am going to write about this situation, from where it began to where it finally escalated and boiled over yesterday.

How Did I Get Here?

A question I frequently asked myself, whenever I felt a renewal of my traumatic relationships with my parents welling up inside me as I simmered in silence in the very limited space I had to myself, was “How did I get here?” I had moved in a state of emergency into a fourth floor condo, not knowing at the time that I was an illegal trespasser there, after someone literally attempted to kill me over nothing. After six weeks of being shuffled around and scurried out of sight behind the land owner’s back, I found out that I was illegally trespassing, and as a direct result, I asked the people I had planned to move in with if we could expedite the start date of our forthcoming agreement. You see, my unauthorized presence in that fourth floor condo could have been removed at any time without notice by a police escort, and would have resulted in the same for a second person who was actually legally entitled to be there. I had no choice but to leave. I was grateful for the fact that I had a third floor apartment to move into, and that was the set of conditions that resulted in my body occupying one of the bedrooms. But the problems I experienced there involved a lot more of me than just my body.

Now, I clearly have some trauma to work through. This is not only why I receive provincial disability benefits while I am unable to establish or maintain gainful employment, but it is also why I presently see a psychiatrist very early every Friday morning — a professional who has been building a relationship with me as his once-weekly early-morning patient now for a full two years. I am far from a perfect person, and quite possibly some distance even from an ideal sort of person, even given the circumstances I have to work with. I may, on occasion, do things that are inappropriate or even unforgivable in the eyes of some. Those occasions often seem to keep each other in close company, as they tend to emerge as a result of re-living my trauma through experiences and interactions that hit too close to my extremely hostile and abusive natal home (where I experienced not only a full spectrum of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of one parent; but an entire range of aggression and emotional neglect by the other, simultaneous with what the first was subjecting me to). I tend to respond to those re-traumatizing stimuli (i.e., being triggered) by shutting down emotionally, or emotionally dissociating, and it tends to take me some time to figure out that I suddenly stopped being able to feel anything except sudden outbursts of intense frustration, completely baseless anxiety, or even acute episodes of anger-out-of-nowhere that fall away just as quickly as they manifested (unless I am further antagonized or triggered in that moment). And when I feel these sudden outbursts, my instincts tell me to isolate myself as immediately as possible, which is not always possible (such as when I am not only in a wide open public space an hour’s bus ride from home, but also at the bottom of a thousand stairs and facing the open waters of the Strait of Georgia—the word “inconvenient” doesn’t even begin to form an adequate gesture). I find a lot of things have the effect of inducing this extremely unproductive chain reaction, or triggering me, because my history of trauma is quite complex. However, the point of seeing my psychiatrist is to develop the emotions that suddenly ceased so long ago when I first experienced many of these traumas, so that I might actually find a way to live without responding to triggering shit by spontaneously becoming antisocial and dissociative. Every relationship I have in which this is neither understood nor respected is merely compounding the trauma further, rather than helping me in my recovery. The relationships I have just finished terminating over my last living arrangement are chief examples of relationships in which my mental health is not taken seriously.

Bearing Grudges & Passive Aggression

As much as I have a very active recollection of events, especially when they are events that have tripped a wire somewhere in my latent memories and resulted in a repetition of a past trauma, I do not make a habit of bearing grudges. I don’t find it productive or useful, and my direct prior experience with this type of behaviour has demonstrated to me that it has the power to impair or terminate virtually all my other relationships, because grudge-bearing is simply impossible to compartmentalize. A person who bears grudges thus not only takes out their anger on the person against whom they bear that grudge, but also on those around them. The latter is especially emphasized when the grudge-bearer’s human punching bag has had enough of the aggression and/or hostility, and either stops trying to reconcile differences or actively removes themselves from the cross-hairs. I am frequently accused of bearing grudges, but this accusation generally springs entirely from people who themselves bear grudges against me, and thus are unable to distinguish grudge-bearing from simply holding someone accountable for a particularly memorable feat (i.e., one which usually stands out because, in order to avoid accountability for their own actions, they developed a grudge to bear against me, and persistently inserted it back into unrelated conversations, or even terminated all possibility of future contact). Whereas the purpose of bearing a grudge is to perpetually punish the target for what is usually a disproportionately trivial “infraction”, the purpose of holding someone accountable for especially asinine behaviour is simply to demonstrate to them that it’s unacceptable behaviour. And whereas being held accountable for one’s actions means nothing more than making amends or an adjustment to one’s own behaviour, either temporarily or over the longer term if one should choose to adopt such a change; grudge-bearing is more-or-less permanent, and immutable even in the face of a reconciliatory gesture or behavioural adjustment. Bearing grudges is always a form of aggression, and ultimately always escalates into a form of hostility when it is tolerated over a long enough period of time. It is most often a form of passive aggression—i.e., though the root problem (which is itself relatively superficial) is rarely openly expressed (if ever), the target of the aggression/hostility is continually reprimanded or punished for it without being permitted the opportunity to make amends or adjustments to their behaviour. Not surprisingly, people who fail to distinguish between grudges and accountability also fail to distinguish between passive aggression and virtually any way the target manages to cope with being subjected to this type of behaviour (especially when it is prolonged).

In case it isn’t immediately clear from how detailed and in-depth my understanding of this phenomenon is, I have been targeted by grudge-bearing and many other forms of passive aggression for a very long time, and because of its relationship to my experiences of horrific abuses, it is one of my biggest triggers of past trauma. It isn’t simply annoying and childish. It’s outright abusive, and this is especially true when it is prolonged enough to finally erupt into active hostility, such as what I experienced yesterday. I avoid this behaviour myself, because I recognize how abusive it really is to perpetually aggress myself upon someone whose inciting behaviour has been amended, and I do not seek ways to assume a different role in the cycle of abuse as a way to deal with having been the victim of it for most of my life. As I’m writing this now, I distinctly recall explaining to one of the individuals I was living with until yesterday, that there are ways to be aggressive without assuming the role of the aggressor who has held power over her for so much of her life, but that I also see her skating the very edge of that abusive dynamic — flirting rather dangerously with the role of the abuser. I told her, more or less, that I felt myself becoming very gradually seduced last year by the prospect of abusing other people in order to get back at them for having abused me, but that as my anger escalated, I became acutely aware of my precarious relationship to the cycle of abuse; and in that moment, I chose to hold myself back from becoming one or both of my excessively abusive parents. I even suddenly remember, as I’m writing this, specifically when she and I had this conversation. It was at the conclusion of a tarot reading I had asked her for when I observed her giving one to her partner and became fascinated by it without wanting to interrupt or become an invasive presence among them. I had not anticipated that she would even comply with this request, let alone in the same evening; and I certainly did not anticipate that this conversation, about the cycle of abuse, would result from it. But it was something she said while she was reading the tarot that triggered that conversation that night, for which her partner was present at the time. Something she saw in the cards that was relatively specific, compared to the generally vague or ambiguous things she spoke of around it, while I sat in silence and attempted to subdue my influence over what she was doing by not speaking and not shifting my body around in the chair until she was finished. At the time that this conversation happened, she remained emotionally subdued rather than becoming defensive; but ultimately, she later privately interpreted this event as offensively unsolicited advice from someone with whom conversing is less productive than speaking at a brick wall, and she developed a grudge over it as a result. That grudge remained unspoken, save for a single occasion during which I explained myself and believed the problem to be resolved, until after my entire life had been packed into bags and a van was already on its way to remove me from her perpetual hostility towards me.

Now, what I shared in that particular conversation was no trivial matter. Nor is the manner in which she developed her relationship to this information. What I said took a lot of courage to say out loud, and it would have taken just as much courage to take it seriously. Unfortunately for myself and virtually anyone who maintains a relationship of any kind with this individual, she does not have that kind of courage. In addition to claiming that what I had said, which is gravely serious, was some sort of “unsolicited advice” of the most offensive possible order (and developing a grudge from it, serious enough to permanently impair our relationship), this individual has openly accused me of “drugging” her so that I could then launch this perceived assault upon her, and has further accused me several times now of perpetrating passive aggression and of being a bully. All this coming from someone who literally boasts about bearing grudges of several years’ duration, against multiple physicians and psychiatrists who have long-since moved on to deal with thousands of other patients with similar temporary needs, for which she also rather arrogantly brags about her intentions to get back at them by abusing a spiritual path to take vengeance upon those she feels have wronged her. I probably should have anticipated what was coming my way, well in advance of when I finally began to fully anticipate it. Every. Last. Bit of it.

Disingenuous Agreements & Other Two-Faced Behaviours

When one has experienced trauma, as virtually all abusers and those like myself who are being dragged again and again into new abusive dynamics have, it is important to set boundaries and make agreements about how to assert, listen for, and acknowledge one’s own boundaries and those of other people. It is especially important to do so with those people one lives with on a full-time basis, for the only people who take any satisfaction out of living in a constant atmosphere of hostility are those who wish to create it. There came a point in this living arrangement that we had a household meeting in order to address some shortcomings in how various boundaries were being dealt with (or not). It is important at this point for me to note that this took place two or three weeks after the event described above, in which I openly expressed to one of the two individuals I was living with that she is walking a very thin line between meaningful or productive aggression and assuming the role of an aggressor or abuser (which she apparently did not take seriously). It is also important at this point for me to note that this house meeting started out immediately confrontational, as my two flatmates were not asking to have a house meeting with me, so much as demanding it at a time and day of the week during which I had been consistently absent for several consecutive weeks, while I took part in ceremony away from the home. Of course, between the two of them, they had decided that they were still “asking”, even though they decided on a time without consulting me and without taking into consideration the commitments I had consistently maintained over several weeks, and thus were not prepared to hear me decline in favour of continuing to attend ceremony. When I explained to them how this is inherently confrontational, they acted as though they understood, and once that was out of the way, our house meeting began. It was during this time that I learned of the grudge that had developed over the fact that I had spoken at all after the tarot reading I had received, and again, I find it important enough to note at this time that the nature of what I had stated was not even acknowledged during this meeting. I also learned that between the two of them, they had decided without even trying to prove themselves wrong, that I was unapproachable and confrontational by default if they tried to assert a boundary of any kind—however, the boundaries they had attempted to assert up to that point demanded unquestioned compliance on my part with completely unreasonable demands, such as for permission from both of them before I was entitled to speak out loud in a common space. The angry tarot querant avoided eye contact with me through the entire conversation and claimed to find it impossible to assert boundaries on her own behalf, or even to help manage her partner’s triggers when she can see that her partner can’t do so herself.

I distinctly recall explaining that if I am interrupting something, I need to hear the words “not right now”, and though they agreed to comply with this very simple request, they did not follow through with it on even a single occasion that followed. In fact, they continued to act as though any time I spoke without their permission first was offensive, even escalating their behaviour at times to the point of acting like my speaking at all was triggering a past traumatic experience (not to mention, acting like no matter how much care I exercise in closing doors, they acted as though I was deliberately terrorizing them with the sound of doors closing). They responded variably to me after the house meeting: by suddenly falling silent if I entered a common space, not speaking to me at all for an entire month (except to ask for the next month’s share of the rent shortly after the middle of the month), conducting themselves as if I not only wasn’t there but had never even moved in, and even planning a trip without uttering so much as a syllable about it until the moment their bags were lined up at the door—at which time they told me only that they would be back that Friday, and when they didn’t show up Friday, I never received an answer when I finally sent a private message on Facebook expressing that I was getting worried by mid-day Saturday. As neither of them uses a mobile phone and they did not leave any indication of where they would be staying, I could not reach them any other way, just to see if they were OK. Additionally, neither of them attempted to contact me simply to say they would be an extra day, and neither of them even acknowledged any part of this at any time in the three weeks I was still living with them after they returned (the first two weeks of which were conducted in strict silence towards me). This was literally the polar opposite of how our relationship had been prior to the house meeting and even for a couple of weeks after the fact, during which we had all shared meals and socialized together throughout the day and often in the early evening as well. The impact upon me of this magnitude of passive aggression cannot be understated. I became nearly perpetually angry when I was at “home”, but not as long as I was alone there. I wasn’t angry because of some unresolved control issue, but because of the unbelievable disrespect I was being shown on a daily basis, and how utterly isolating this experience was. Not only that, but it also made every common space in the apartment feel like it was inherently hostile, and that included the hallway to the front door. As if all that wasn’t enough, the two of them began steadily drinking on a daily basis and (frankly) abusing several mild hallucinogens multiple times a day, leaving empty booze bottles strewn all over the kitchen among their rotting dishes, baggies, and pipes. Alcohol has played the role of Liquid Genocide on the maternal side of my blood relations. I will have already understated how triggering it is to try and prepare a meal while surrounded on three sides by liquor bottles, no matter how I attempt to parse it.

But somehow, despite literally every possible obstacle being hurled into my face by constant passive aggression, I found a way to deal with all the anger, grief, and feelings of isolation I was experiencing as long as someone else was “home”. I didn’t take it out on my two flatmates. I didn’t take it out on myself, either. I managed to not even take it out on anyone else in my life, and though I came very close to reaching my breaking point yesterday after one of my two flatmates came about as close as she possibly could to punching me in the face without actually touching me, I think I narrowly avoided causing a problem with someone who isn’t even part of the conflict. I talked to someone about how this experience was making me feel, and he listened emphatically. He asked questions and took genuine interest in my answers, and while the two of them were on their super secret stealth trip, he and I enjoyed several hours of fellowship in the apartment, during which he advised me how closely he has been watching them, too. He played the piano, we discussed matters of mysticism and spirituality, and we nourished our relationship with open communication of a wide range of topics. I have since learned that though he has some sort of relationship to the two of them, their passive aggression has turned on him, too. They’d be fooling themselves if they thought he hadn’t noticed every thing they have ever done in his presence, or if they thought he hasn’t added it all up on his own—even before I started talking to him about it, not knowing who else to turn to in my time of need. He has kept me balanced. He has helped me continue to nourish myself and my relationships. And ultimately, he has helped me free myself from this abuse without even momentarily giving into it.

Parting Ways & Taking Advantage Of Generosity

The day the problem surpassed its boiling point is the very same day I left—yesterday. I had secured a place to go to, and begun seriously planning my escape. I decided I did not want to leave in a spirit of animosity, so using the same ceremony that brought me to where I am now sitting in the safety of a quiet and respectful home, I stated my intent to find a way to express when I am leaving, without causing further conflict. I had been using this ceremony daily, for several consecutive days, to keep myself in a state of calm and respect for myself and others. Somehow, the silence at the apartment had been suddenly broken a few days prior, and knowing that I could not resolve the passive aggression I had been subjected to without escalating it further, I decided instead to express how frustrated and paralysed I felt by the passive aggression of other people who were acting in a nearly identical manner. I hoped that this might actually cause some opportunity for self-reflection, to at least de-escalate the passive aggression for a couple of weeks. Instead, the angry tarot querant took this as an opportunity to sow further contempt and animosity towards one of the people whose behaviour I was talking about. This was followed by another two days of silence (which at this point, was mutual). On the morning of the final day, when I awoke, I intended to take myself to the sacred space I had been entering at least once weekly since April, often to extract what other people leave behind. But this day, my intent was to gather medicines for two elders. I decided to use ceremony again to assert my will to the universe in the hopes that I don’t come back empty-handed, as what I had planned to do was not driven by greed or arrogance, but by gratitude, generosity, and humility. When I was finally ready to leave, I heard shouting through the music in my headphones the moment I opened my bedroom door. I stopped, removed my headphones, and simply said, “What?

The angry tarot querant was shouting at me, accusing me of “talking shit” about her and her partner on my Facebook status, because the night before, I had expressed dissatisfaction and exhaustion when I tried to go to sleep but couldn’t get any rest until after my two flatmates finally simmered down a little with a third party on the other side of my bedroom wall. I told her I am not going to deal with this right now, and she pursued me, saying I’ve got another thing coming if I don’t think she’ll follow me down the hallway. And in fact, she did. Yelling all the way down the hallway about my Facebook status update and about me “talking shit” about her and her partner. I told her I didn’t name their names, and she yelled back that people know I live with them. I told her it wouldn’t matter if it was her or anyone else, because it’s the behaviour I’m talking about, and the way it makes me feel. She yelled back that they “opened their home to me” and I’m “talking shit” about them. All the way down the hallway like this, so that every neighbour in the building who was home on that floor or the next one down could hear us. I tried to tell her that they took this trip of theirs without saying a thing and when they didn’t come back when they said they were going to, they didn’t even answer when all I wanted to know was that they were OK. She yelled at me some more, this time about how passive aggressive I allegedly am. I stepped into the elevator and she followed me in. I told her I’m leaving in a week and she yelled as loudly as possible that it couldn’t come soon enough. Without ever raising my own voice or using profanity, I simply tried to say “Believe me, the feeling is mutual.” She very suddenly and aggressively braced her arm against the closing elevator door to force it back open again, still yelling at me, this time about “burning bridges” and making veiled threats “supply wagons”. I walked out of the elevator and started down the stairs. She finally stopped following me, but made sure to yell at me down the stair well.

Once outside, I started to think about my rights as a tenant in that building, and by the time I was a block away, a part of me knew I couldn’t go to my sacred space that day. I decided instead to tell my friend and confidant, who had given me advice for looking for an apartment and would be keeping his ear to the ground for something, that I had secured a place to live. By the time he and I were face to face, I started off by telling him how I had just been treated. Then I told him I had a place to go. I told him the details about where it is, how much it’s going to cost me, and that I had been offered the right to move in immediately without being charged rent for the first month. I suddenly started to think out loud that I should take advantage of this instead of waiting an extra week, and I decided to retreat back to the apartment to immediately pack all my things and ask for the immediate help I had been offered.

While waiting for the van to arrive, I could hear the hammering away of furious computer keyboard strokes on the other side of the wall, and I knew she was punching out a self-righteous, accusatory essay about how mean and at-fault I am for everything that has happened. And sure enough, that’s exactly what she hammered out into that keyboard, including the accusation I have mentioned above, of me allegedly “drugging” her, in addition to several grudges and her beliefs about how passive aggressive, condescending, and exploitative I am — while making herself out to be the portrait of generosity, kindness, and effective coping mechanisms, being bullied into silence by someone she can’t talk to. When my help arrived, she embarrassed herself by disrespecting a complete stranger who is an elder, continuing her passive aggression towards me by directing it towards this woman she had just met for the first time, and finally throwing half the cash rent I had paid for the month into my face when I asked if she wanted to give part of the rent back to me (because she told this woman she would, if I asked for it). In the eight years I did sex work, no one has ever thrown money in my face to spite me, but that is exactly the first thing I thought of when she did it. When I had finished moving, I checked my computer to discover that she had asked me if I have any real friends, sent me a friend request on Facebook, and then blocked me after being satisfied she had gotten the last low blow she’ll ever need to take.

This isn’t someone who has been bullied, antagonized, condescended, or silenced by me. This isn’t someone who can’t assert boundaries, either. This is someone who habitually generates conflicts and confrontations through systematic passive aggression, in part because she thinks that if she disguises her contempt and anger as either an unresolvable vulnerability from years of trauma or an indirect form of defensive aggression, then no one will notice it, resist it, or be hurt by it enough to extract themselves from her abuse. Whatever else is going on, she clearly thinks she’s healing herself from trauma by actively traumatizing other people for perceived transgressions against her. She is dangerous, hostile, and manipulative, and she doesn’t even realize that literally anyone can see it — especially if she doesn’t even bother to contain herself in front of a complete fucking stranger. She shouldn’t be asking me if I have any real friends. She should be asking herself. In fact, she should probably be doing an inventory of her behaviour in her most important relationships before those other people do. I know if I were in this situation again, or even just watching it, I would steer as far away from her as I possibly fucking could. Like I literally just finished doing.

Finally, I just want to address the allegation that I “take advantage” of people who have shown generosity or given a gift to me: it would be suicidal for someone in my position, as systematically disadvantaged as I have always been (in roughly 95% of the different aspects of my life), to do anything but take advantage where I have been shown generosity or given a gift. Its relationship to my survival is the reason why it’s called generosity or a gift. That sometimes a person is generous to me, or gives me a gift, and later regrets their decision does not mean I have exploited them—if anything, it means they made an agreement with me in bad faith, and accusing me of being exploitative is the only way they can avoid accountability for their own decisions. A lot of people have made the same accusation, and I can confidently state that not even one of them understands the meaning of the word “exploit”, for they also fail to understand several distinctions of violence, aggression, microaggression, confrontation, or hostility, unless they can find a way to claim victimhood with it. Meanwhile, what are they doing? Treating me like a human punching bag. Take a good long look in the mirror sometime, angry tarot querant.

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