- Of Domestic Violence and Victim 'Complicity'
- (possibly triggering, non-academic)
There are no words. Pain, its cause uncertain, has seemingly precluded all possibility of your finding them. Language, you know in some far off corner of your mind, exists but it is inaccessible to you; longed for but inaccessible. Pain consumes you, as it has so many times before, and it is what you have become. You have no sense of where it begins and where you end. You have no sense of the limits of your body. You have no sense of yourself. You are almost nothing but an amorphous mass of pain, barely human but not quite inhuman yet.
The loss of language is terrifying: the inability to think coherently let alone communicate with another person destroys you every bit as completely as you imagine potentially mortal physical injury would have done. You are desperately alone, wrapped in pain and, stripped of both language and strength, incapable of all but the softest and most inarticulate of whimpers. This isn’t you; you are not yourself. Nobody, in fact; nothing but pain personified. And, in that moment, there seems to be no escape.
The pain itself is indescribable as it always is. There are metaphors and similes which you could rely upon: as if you’ve been impaled by red hot iron rods, as if you’ve been set on fire, as if you’ve been worked upon in a medieval torture chamber, as if you’ve fallen into a vat of strong acid. The list is unending. Not one of item on it describes the experience of communing with pain, and that is what it is. You, your body and pain are almost indistinguishable. A trinity.
You feel yourself fall deeper and deeper into an abyss. There is blackness which challenges the perception of anything beyond itself. It is narrow and you imagine you scrape against it. At some point in your descent, you realise that if it’s narrow enough for you to scrape against, it’s narrow enough for you to try to find a finger-hold; it’s narrow enough for you to hold on to and claw your way up inch by torturous inch till you finally see a glimmer of sunlight again.
Not quite knowing how, you reach into yourself to find words, to ask for support because you fear you will not make it through the hours that lie ahead. You’ll live, you know. Your body will not betray you; it’s had far too many opportunities to do so and declined them all. But you don’t know if you’ll emerge at dawn feeling human as opposed to merely feeling alive; a living and breathing mass without the capacity to think of physics or take joy in art. The fear that, once the pain recedes, you will no longer have access to yourself is almost worse than the experience of pain.
Language, you find, is your weapon against pain. It keeps what it means to be human from being annihilated in relation to you. It doesn’t matter what the words are. It doesn’t matter whether they are sensible. It only matters that they form sentences; that they distinguish you from a stray dog, insensible to all but having been injured, that has been run over and left to fend for itself. You know, without needing words or language or thought to tell you, that you do not want to be that dog. You know because you have already been than dog. You know because, although pain may impair memory and distort time, as long as you are conscious, it does not erase either.
A night past of words incomprehensible meshes with your present; you are long past hearing a human being’s speech as anything but noise. The decor is terrible; a nondescript sofa with matching chairs and a coffee table fill the room. There’s a very large television too; there wouldn’t not be one. You’d found a note he wrote; perhaps ‘found’ isn’t the word given that it lay on top of the table. A list of possible presents —or should it be just ‘presents’?— for a woman he was interested in. ‘Terquoise’ jewellery, item one.
That discretion is the better part of valour is clearly not a lesson you’ve learnt as yet, that nothing you say or feel or think makes a difference. That prudence lies in rarely speaking, in not complaining, and, of course, in never giving in to the temptation to proof-read a list of presents for another woman. Even you know that there’s no way you can do so without more than a little bitterness and a lot of sarcasm.
Prudence, however, is not what guides you. You complain about the existence of the list, and then you mock the list itself. You behave like a bitch and you’re treated like one. Stripped and on all fours. Your limbs tied so that you can only move by crawling, your fingers taped are almost useless to you. You eat off a plate on the floor and whimper; you cannot remove the debris of your meal from your face but you have learnt not to complain, for now.
He speaks occasionally but his words are only sounds that make as much sense to you as static on the radio would. You hear them all and comprehend nothing. There is just you and your mind which is cracking; you’ve crossed over from being human to animal, and have little use for words. You will recover; recover yourself and recover your use of words, and the lesson, hard learnt, will be forgotten, as it always is.
Your sense of time is so distorted by pain that you struggle to differentiate between the past and the present. Even though you’re not entirely sure of what you’re saying, you hold on to the present with words. An endless stream of them, as it turns out, which you’ve now imposed on the person you’ve reached out to for support, which you’ve decided to force yourself to articulate in some, perhaps misguided, attempt at controlled exposure. To not feel shame, to distance yourself, perhaps to accept yourself. To not feel as haunted by responsibility. To accept 'complicity' without feeling ashamed of it, and of yourself.
There are no easy explanations for all the times you’ve been harmed, fewer still for the times you’ve asked to be harmed. Or hit. Or used. Simply because it was easier than refusing to ask, because in not asking the pain would have been worse. The standard narrative that one exclusively has harm done unto one does not apply; that narrative doesn’t take participation into account. And in participation, for you, there’s been nothing but shame. And words, as always, are hard to find.