Fight or Flight–or Neither

It’s commonly thought that when someone is in a dangerous or threatening situation, the person has two choices–fight or flight.  I learned at an early age that there is another choice–disappear.  I learned how to freeze my inner soul and then shrink it so it could fit in the corner of my mind.  I learned how to block out my body as best I could and simply exist in my head.  I have always prized my mind highly, anyway, so I was fine living in there.  Or so I thought.

Today, I am going to talk about what happened to me in Thailand, but only briefly.  I have had to deal with it in the last week or so, and I am not really ready to discuss it in length.  However, it does tie in with the topic at hand and with what happened to me as a child, so I thought I would write a little about it if I can.*

I met a guy named Marty.  He was Thai, and he chose that as his American name.  He was not part of the program I was on; he was a local.  He was at a party, saw me, and decided he had to meet me.  He got a friend of mine to introduce him, and he asked me out.  I said no at first.  I had just broken up with the love of my life the summer before (for the third and final time), and I was also enduring a situation at the hotel in which a hotel worker was stalking me.  In addition, we had traveled from Taiwan, the land of my ancestry, where I was informed that I couldn’t be Taiwanese because I was too loud, too opinionated, too…much.  This was before I had tats, but still.

In Thailand, I lived with a host family who pretty much left me alone.  They were very laid-back, which I interpreted as not caring.  So, I was hurt, lonely, sad, and very much fragile.  In other words, Marty found me at the perfect time–for him.  He persisted, and I finally agreed to go out with him despite my misgivings.  He was cute, but he was also macho, not very well educated, and a hardcore drinker.  He got mean when he got drunk, but I didn’t find that out until later.

He made it very clear that he liked me because I looked Thai (and I did at that time.  I could easily pass for Thai Chinese), but I was American.  Meaning, I was looser than Thai women.  Oh, he didn’t say it, but the implication was very clear.  At the time, I was still a ‘good girl’ in that I didn’t drink, swear, and I’d only had sex with one man–the man who just broke up with me for the third time.  At that point, I no longer believed in marriage for sex, but I did believe that I should be in love before having sex.  At least, my mind did.  My body wasn’t as sure about it, and that was where the trouble began.

On our first few dates, he established a pattern.  We would go somewhere in his truck, drink a little (or in his case, a lot), and then go park somewhere.  I did not want to park, but he ignored my protests.  I also found out later that he borrowed the truck from a friend because all he (Marty) had was a scooter.

It soon became evident that he expected me to put out.  I resisted at first because of my principles.  It didn’t help, though, that he was a good kisser and relentless.  He kept pushing things further and further, and I kept going along.  Why?  Because I didn’t want to return to the host house where no one talked to me.  Because I was still reeling from feeling more like an outsider in Asia than I ever had in America.  Because I was still grieving that the man I loved and thought I would spend the rest of my life with had found me sadly wanting.  Mostly, though, it was because I was so desperately lonely and broken and weak.

Before I continue, I have to say that of all the stupid things I’ve done in my life (and the list is very long), this is the one that makes me feel the worst.  It shames me, disgusts me, and makes me feel completely worthless whenever I think of it.  It is really hard for me to blog about it without me wanting to throw up, scream, punch the wall, or cry.  Or all of the above.  More on that a little later.

One night, he planned to take me to a hotel.   The host family went to bed before midnight and hadn’t given me a key to the house, so I couldn’t get back in if I was out late.  This was the point when I should have said no.  I should have told him, no, I don’t think so.  I mean, what the fuck did I think was going to happen?  I had managed to convince myself that he wouldn’t push it past a certain point (we were up to blowjobs) because, well, just because.  Someone wouldn’t really force someone else to have sex.

How stupid was I?  It wasn’t as if I didn’t know about date rape.  I did.  I just rationalized that there was no way it could happen to me.  I couldn’t stand the thought of another night of aching loneliness, so I went.  As was his wont, we went to a bar first and drank.  He got thoroughly plastered, and I drank more than I normally did.  Then, we hopped on his scooter (no helmets) and went to the hotel.

In my mind, I knew it was a bad idea.  No matter how tipsy I was (and I was fairly tipsy), I knew that going with him was not a good idea at all.  I went.  I cringed as he led me into the dingy motel room, but I didn’t say anything.  I cringed as he undressed himself and me so we could shower (I use the term loosely as they only had hand-held spray nozzles), but I didn’t say anything.  I cringed as he led me to the bed, and we started making out.  I was screaming no in my mind, but I didn’t say anything out loud.

Even as he was nudging my legs apart, I was in denial.  He wouldn’t really, he would stop, he wouldn’t do that.  I had made it explicitly clear that I wasn’t going to have sex with him.  He would honor that, wouldn’t he?  What I forgot is that I had also said I wouldn’t do any of the other things leading up to sex, and I had done them.  I forgot that he never listened to any of my objections, so why would he start this time?  I forgot that he was a very macho man who was used to taking no for a yes.  I forgot all those things until I felt him entering me.

Then, I said no.  I said it out loud.  I screamed it at him as I struggled to push him off me.  I said it over and over and over again until I thought I would go insane.  He didn’t stop until he was fully inside me, and I began to bawl.  I flat-out lost it.  I cried hysterically until he finally withdrew.  I curled into a ball and just wept as he held me and tried to placate me.  I was inconsolable.  I couldn’t believe he had just done that to me.  My mind, still foggy from the alcohol, couldn’t grasp what had happened.  I felt like I was losing my mind.

I could dimly hear him talking to me in Thai, but I wasn’t listening.  I could only think about what he’d done and how it had hurt, goddamn it.  Not just physically–though, certainly that–but emotionally as well.  I couldn’t stop crying for what seemed like hours.  In reality, it was probably more like minutes.  The tears did eventually slow down.  I could hear Marty telling me that he loved me, in both Thai and English.

Loved me?  Loved me?  What the fuck?  I had no idea what he meant by that because what he had done to me was not what love should have felt like.  Loved me?  He just wanted a receptacle for his sperm because he didn’t know the first thing about me.  He certainly did not love me.

After my sobs quieted and I had myself somewhat under control, he repeated that he loved me, gently spread me out on the bed, and he entered me again.

In that moment, he completely broke me.  I had tried to fight, and I didn’t fight hard enough–yet, I couldn’t fight any harder.  I couldn’t flee (not at that moment, at least), so I did what I had learned to do at such a young age–I disappeared into my mind.  I took my soul, curled it up into a very tiny ball, and I shoved it in the corner of my mind.  I didn’t want it to get contaminated, broken, and ruined along with my body, so I hid it.

Do you want to know the worst part?  And this is why I have such a hard time writing about that relationship.  I stayed with him for the entire two months I was in Thailand.  I stayed with him and continued to have sex with him.  He refused to use a condom because he didn’t like the way they felt, and he had been to prostitutes before (it was Thailand, after all).  He would pinch my thigh and call me fat.  He told me he wanted to have babies with me, despite my insistence that I didn’t want kids.  When I tried to break up with him, he told me he would kill himself if I left him.

If the program hadn’t ended when it did, I don’t know what would have happened to me.  He never hit me with his fists, but it would have been better if he had.  I could take the physical pain.  I could take the bruises and the scars–indeed, I’ve given myself many.  What I couldn’t fucking deal with was the total disregard for my person and, what’s even worse, my own complicity in my ruin.

When I got back to America, I took an AIDS test as soon as I got out of school (had to wait the six months).  In those days, you had to wait for the results.  It was the longest fucking wait of my life.  I was so fucking lucky I didn’t get pregnant, either.

I told friends what had happened to me, and an interesting phenomenon happened.  All my female friends, while commiserating, gave me advice on what I could have done or should have done.  I don’t blame them, really, because they were just looking out for me in my next situation.  And, to be honest, they were reassuring themselves that it couldn’t happen to them.  I understand that.  On the other hand, my male friends all wanted to beat the shit out of Marty.

Me, I went into a tailspin.  I obsessed over what had happened and all the things I had done wrong.  I fucking hated myself for how weak and stupid and complicit I was.  I hated that I stayed with him.  I hated that no matter how hard I tried to shut down my body, I still felt pleasure when we had sex.  My own body had betrayed me, and I couldn’t deal with that at all.  I knew intellectually that it was merely a physical response to stimulation, but emotionally, I hated my body for being so weak.  I never came from sex with him (quite frankly, it wasn’t high on his list of priorities), but it did feel good.

That was the start of the fifteen-year hiatus from my life.  I vacated my body and lived exclusively in my mind.  I saw my body as just a vessel that contained my mind, which contained my soul.  My body disgusted me, and all I could see when I looked in the mirror was how ugly and damaged it was.  It had betrayed me so many times, I wanted nothing more to do with it.

During that time, I fell a lot.  I also ran into walls, tables, couches, and whatever else was in the room.  It was partly because I was clumsy, yes, but it was mostly because I just didn’t give a damn about my body.   Or, rather, it’s because I wanted to punish my body.  And punish it I did.  It was a point of pride to see how much pain I could tolerate.  It was with grim satisfaction that I would watch the blood trickle down my broken skin or the skin bubble up from where I’d burnt it with a cigarette.

All this time, I tucked away my soul into my mind and hung out up there.  The world was not safe.  My body was not safe.  Only my mind was safe–though it, too, had betrayed me.  I disappeared into my head, leaving the rest of me to brave the elements alone.

Why am I blogging about this?  Well, first of all, the memories have been coming back along with the flashbacks.  Second, my experience in Thailand has been festering like a putrid wound for too long.  No matter how much I push it to the back of my mind or try to forget it, it still colors how I see myself.   I cannot shake how I feel ashamed, disgusting, and ugly when I remember that relationship.

Lastly, I have found that, trite as it may sound, disclosure really is best for memories such as these.  Keeping it to myself has only made it uglier, more disgusting, and more sordid than it was when it happened.  It’s like the scars I have on my arm from cutting myself.  At first, I tried to hide them because I was ashamed of them.  Then, when someone got a glimpse of them, I would feel even more ashamed.  Once I stopped hiding them, I accepted them as part of me, and I was no longer ashamed.  I’m not proud of them, but I am not ashamed of them, either.

I am hoping that the same thing will happen as I recount my experience in Thailand because I cannot move forward if I keep letting it sink me.

*I guess I was more ready to write about it than I had previously thought.

6 Responses to Fight or Flight–or Neither

  1. I agree with you that someone was shameful and disgusting in your relationship in Thailand, but it wasn’t you, Minna. This creep saw your vulnerabilities, but instead of lifting you up as a decent person would, he cultivated them, damaging you so that he could more easily manipulate you. I’m outraged that I share a gender with specimens like him — sure, I haven’t been a prince all my life, but I’ve never come close to being that bad. Your being in a vulnerable position does not in any way give him the right to take advantage of you or excuse him for having done so, and that include his manipulations to have you continue.

    We can’t always change our situations simply by strength of will, Minna. I understand your pain and regret at the way he was able to use you, but he bears the lion’s share of the blame. Most importantly, you’ve grown much stronger, to the point where you’re able to confront these painful memories. You aren’t the same person you were in Thailand. You’re loved and admired by many, and I think I speak for all your friends when I say we understand that where we are at this point in our lives includes many regrets and missteps, but that doesn’t make any of us less lovable by a jot.

  2. A lot of us have a Marty in our past.

    I don’t have a lot of words of wisdom for you on this one, I can only tell you that you are not alone in your experience.

    If we all turned Orange for a day, the world would be something strange to look at. Though it might be even more interesting to see them turn Gray or something.

    I love you Minna. You need to hug your little girl in you and forgive her for what you see as stupid and tell her how much you love her. Is it her fault she believed all people are inherently good? Is it her fault Marty is the one who taught her life’s rules are broken all the time? No it’s not.

    Do you blame me for MY Marties? Do you blame me for the spousal rape? The emotion and thought you would apply to me, need to be applied to you as well.

    You are not at fault.

  3. I think The Whabs nailed it, Minna.

    Would you blame any of us for our Marties? ‘Cause we all have them. Not all guys are shitheads, but there are some that are. And they prey on women who don’t have the confidence and the experience to recognize and to handle their bullshit with the dismissive “Fuck off” that they deserve.

    You can’t beat the hell out of yourself for something that most of your friends have gone through as well, and have heard that they were not at fault. It just doesn’t work.

    This slimebucket deserves more than he’ll probably ever get back in this life. But eventually his karma will take care of it. In the meantime, WE will take care of you.

  4. When I was in therapy, I spent eight years in a group for adults from dysfunctional families. Of that group of 10 -12 nearly half were adults that were sexually abused as children, of that 50%, two were also perpetrators.

    But all of us had secrets to hide. And it is the hiding that turns past experiences into shame. Telling the story, whatever it is, gets it out into the light, because that toxic shame requires darkness, secrecy to grow.

    I remember one of the women talking about her father foundling her as a child. She talked about knowing that it was wrong, about how it screwed up the rest of her relationships, but also that it felt good. She talked about the mixed messages she carried with her ever after. It was confusing. Our bodies are designed for touch to feel good. Do we blame the tree for being good or the wolf for eating the elk?

    I am sorry some asshole of a perpetrator used what you were and where you were at that point in your journey against you. But you are not that person anymore and that was never all that you were. In the light of day, lay the guilt where it belongs, be angry with the one who abused you, ignored your stated desires, manipulated your needs and objectified you.

    Embrace yourself and your courage to face your experience in the light, while your friends embrace you.

  5. I usually hate statements like “all males do X” and “all females do Y”… but reading this, I wanted to beat the shit out of Marty even if it required going thousands of miles away (and building a time machine so I could get him before he hurt you)… so maybe there is something to all that.

    In the meantime, continue to build your courage and strength. I admire you for taking this all on… and in doing so, taking away its ability to have power over you and your future.

  6. First of all, a big thank you to all of you for your unending support. You guys are the best.

    Gregory, my mind understands what you’re saying and agrees. My heart says differently. The shame and disgust I feel is pretty deeply-rooted. No matter how hard I try to convince myself that what you say is true, I just can’t quite do it. It’s true that I am not the same person now as I was then, but when I think of what happened in Thailand, I feel as weak as I was back then.

    whabs, I was thinking of you as I wrote this because I knew what you would say. My answer would be: our situations were vastly different. Therefore, I can blame myself for what happened to me while not blaming you for what happened to you.

    However, I do know that this kind of thinking is just another way my demons spin their bullshit at me. I also know that if I didn’t speak out about this, it would eventually eat me alive. You are right that so many people have a Marty in their pasts. I am hoping by speaking up once again, I can help another person in a similar situation realize that s/he is not alone.

    I am trying to be gentle with the younger incarnations of me, but it is so very hard.

    Kel, see my response to whabs. Unfortunately, I can perfectly well rationalize how it’s my fault in my situation, but not other people’s fault in their situations. For so many years, I have firmly believed that because of my complicity, I was to blame for what happened.

    Now, with some distance, I can at least accept that what he did to me just wasn’t right. No matter what bad decisions I made, he was the one who decided to take advantage of me. I can see how the first time was a result of miscommunication, but not the second. Not after I got hysterical. I think that’s actually the most difficult thing to face–in the end, I simply didn’t matter to him.

    Crystal, you hit the nail on the head. It’s keeping this shit in the dark that allows it to fester. You have a beautiful way with words, and it enables you to express such heartfelt emotions.

    Again, I really wish I could see it the way you do–about him preying on me. I mean, intellectually, I agree with what you’re saying. Emotionally, I still have difficulty not being totally overwhelmed with shame when I think of him.

    Alex, I don’t think all men have the same reactions, nor do all women. However, in this case, they did. You are a very sweet man, and I am glad you are my friend. I don’t feel very courageous or strong. I just know that I have to face this sooner or later, so it might as well be now.