Sunday, November 24, 2013

Danse Macabre--chapter 30

Guys, first off, brace yourselves. This is bad. There's no humor tonight, because there's nothing funny about what I just read. 

When I was thirteen, I read a book by Piers Anthony. My mother was pretty happy I was reading, and she didn't police my reading habits because, you know, that's not what cool moms do. Most of the time I'd agree with that 100%, but Piers Anthony is probably one of the most reprehensible human beings on planet earth. Most of his books involve some version of pedophilia, and that's the least awful thing he randomly includes. This particular series interested me because it involved world hopping, but it also exposed me to the concepts of gang rape, suicidal depression/ideation, pedophilia as a positive relationship and self-injury. It was, in fact, the first time I ever encountered the concept, and naturally every single thing about it was wrong. The protagonist is a fourteen year old girl who was abused as a small child, bullied in school and finally gang raped at a party at least a year before the book began, and is understandably depressed, and rather than having her parents realize that she's cutting herself in a tree and hiding the blood in the nastiest tin can on planet Earth and getting her much needed help, she gets whisked away on a romantic adventure by a twenty-five-year-old stranger who confirms her depression is utterly incurable and she's going to be that way for the rest of her life, and let's go magically relive all our trauma because it's not like we don't have flashbacks every fucking book. The bonus round, of course, was that when Mr. Anthony portrayed Self Injury he got every possible detail wrong. Protagonist cuts because she's too chicken-shit to be suicidal (This is what the text says) rather than because it offers a measure of relief (and because your subconscious is screaming HELP ME I CANNOT HANDLE MY SITUATION ANYMORE GET ME OUT AND GET ME HELP)

I refuse to give Anthony credit for my struggles with self injury, but I do have to admit that was the first seed ever planted. The things writers create speak to us on a level below conscious thought, simply because that's how storytelling works. You're holding the conscious interest with a shiny event, while you're shoving plot twists and character development under the brain's front door so the subconscious can process it. And a lot of other things get through. The writer's intent, their biases, and an awful lot of unintentional messages. A book is never responsible for an action, any more than a grain of sugar is responsible for fermentation. It doesn't trigger anything, but it contributes something to an individual's under-thought.

Laurell K. Hamilton's writing contributes the concept that abuse and forced consent are acceptable behaviors, and then it reenforces that concept over and over and over again. Not because unhealthy relationships are featured, but because these relationships are praised. And if someone is in an abusive relationship, and they see that relationship reflected in, say, Micah's rape of Anita in the shower, or Jean Claude's constant manipulation of Anita, and they read page after page of Anita praising those actions as love, love, true and unadulterated love, those pages have contributed to an abuse victim accepting their situation. 

Our brains are constantly processing information. One thing they constantly reprocess are comparisons. How does my life measure up to everyone else's? And it doesn't look at cars or houses, but rather histories. Is it normal for my husband to say this after I fail? Should my girlfriend be doing that? Is this normal? Is this acceptable? Am I doing okay, or do I need to change something? That's why having a gay character be a character and not a joke is important. That's why using rape as a joke is fucking wrong, and why having all the unlikable characters die in the slasher movie is the worst trend in movies ever. It's got nothing to do with being offended, and everything to do with the information being fed to the individuals who are still processing reality. And if you do get offended, it's probably not because you're personally insulted (unless you are). It's because on some level you understand how fucking damaging that attitude is to people who don't have defenses against that yet. It's why I find Prosperity Gospel and people like Hubbard and Warren Jeffs (Google it. Seriously. Start reading now and come back when the nausea gets overwhelming) to be pictures of fucking evil. LKH's target audience are women. Some of them will be married. Some of them will be married in abusive situations. Some of them will read about Anita's relationships and compare them to their own relationships and decide, based on that information, if how they are being treated is normal and healthy.

Think about that, and keep reading.

Anita is having a full on meltdown. This is the first positive thing I've found in the book so far. Emotional meltdowns aren't inherently bad. Frequently, if you're in an abusive relationship or you're struggling with addiction, they're good. They're the moment your subconscious finally kicks up the conclusion its been working on for months: This is not a good situation, nothing about this is good for us, and we need to get out. What we call an intervention is an artificial meltdown, a fake "bottom" to hit because the real "hitting bottom" could be fatal. I've had about three of these: Once when I realized my cutting had gotten out of hand, once when I understood that I'd gotten in a bad situation involving family, and once when I had a panic attack at my last job. These are not fun. Your entire worldview has been carefully built, either by yourself or, more likely, your abusive piece of shit significant other, to preclude exactly this revelation, and so that's the first thing to go. You lose all points of reference. You've been taught not to trust yourself, so you've just lost track of what's real. You feel guilt, you feel betrayed, usually by yourself, you feel a massive amount of pain and sorrow. Every time I went through this, I had the shakes anywhere from an hour to a couple of days. It's difficult to function physically, it's almost impossible to function mentally, and the one thing blazing through your mind is I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE.

 I heard a voice, a hysterical voice, saying, “Don’t want to do this… can’t do this. I can’t do this.” I realized it was me, and even realizing it, I couldn’t stop the babbling. “Can’t do a baby, tests, don’t want to do the ardeur anymore, no more, no more men, no more adding to my life.”
If Anita had one real friend in that room, she'd be out of all of this in thirty seconds. This is not a momentary lapse in judgement. This is a physical breakdown.

But here's the thing: Abusers are terrified of this moment. Sometimes it's subconsious, but most of the time they consiously know damn well that if you actually break through the shaky part and even one person confirms what you just said, they've lost you. So while you're sobbing and screaming and trying to remember how to run, they're being nice and sedate and calm, and breaking out the guilt trips.

This is exactly what happens next:

“It (Anita leaving) will destroy your power base,” Asher’s voice, though I couldn’t make my eyes search the room for him.
 “So be it,” Jean-Claude said. I fought to see him clearly, watch him look to Richard. “Why the tragic face, Richard? You could be free of the triumvirate, Richard, free of me.”
Guilt trip the first: It'll destroy everything Jean Claude built, and it's all Anita's fault. She's the one that wants to leave. Everything else is going so well. In choosing to leave, she's just decided that her life is more important than Jean Claude's entire empire.

Anita just flat out said it: SHE WANTS OUT. She wants out of the relationships, she wants out of the baby, she wants out of the magic. And this is the nearest that Jean Claude et-al ever get to honesty: Anita can't be allowed to leave because that shatters everything they've built. NONE of which she benefits from.

YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO LEAVE. Even if it destroys the world (and it won't. Abusers are amazingly resiliant monsters) you have every right to say "Fuck that" and walk out the door.

Jean-Claude’s face loomed into view. “Ma petite, drop your shields. Drop them just enough for me to sense you. Let me share energy with you. You are unwell.”
Hey, we're going to invalidate your thought process and accuse you of being ill. Just let us back in and everything will be alright. You're sick, that's all. You're not thinking right, and I am, and if you'll just trust me I'll make everything better.

I can't decide if I want to scream or vomit right now.

This is how cultists keep their membership. This is how absuers keep their victims. It's never the victim's choice to stay. EVER. You cannot make a choice when you are never allowed to even consider the alternative. The victim chooses to leave and then gets pounded back into staying. Anita did not choose this lifestyle. She's fought it tooth and nail every step of the way and now she's literally screaming I WANT OUT and it's a sudden dogpile of negativity, invalidation and death threats.

Oh, have I not brought that part up yet?

“Damian.” I opened my eyes, and found myself staring into a black blur of a face. Nathaniel moved back far enough for me to have a chance to focus on him. 
I repeated what he’d said. “Damian.” 
“Damian will die,” Nathaniel said.
In other words, "I'll die if you leave me."

Lemme back up a bit and address the part right before that:

I was trying to do a take-back, on a game that had played too far for a do-over. The front part of my brain knew it was too late, but it wasn’t the front part of my brain that was in charge. How do you argue with the subconscious? How do you argue with a part of your brain you don’t even know is there most of the time?
Your subconsious is smarter than you are. It doesn't kick this shit up to fuck with you. When you break down like this, your brain is telling you you need to get out. And it is never too late to get out. It doesn't matter if you're married or you've got kids or he's dying of cancer or she's suicidal. If you want out, GET OUT. If you've had one of these scream-cry moments, especially if it's recent, and you didn't listen to it? You were right then, and it's time to go.

 So Jean Claude repeats it several times: If Anita leaves, Damian dies and it'll be all her fault. Then Micah brings up that even if she runs, she'll still be pregnant and she'll still need to go see a doctor. Which is bullshit. Yes, she still needs to deal with the baby, but she can do that with Ronnie, and by making a different appointment (Because the men might meet her at the current one and do this again. In fact, if I were Ronnie and Anita said she wanted out, I'd have her make an appointment with a different doctor, and then make plans to leave the state) and she can decide to terminate the pregnancy. It'd make the running a lot easier.

Anita says that if she leaves, she'll be free of the Ardeur. Jean Claude, of course, has a reply:
“In truth, I do not know if the gifts and curses you gain through the vampire marks will vanish if the triumvirate breaks. It may leave you as I found you, alone and safe in your own skin, if that is what you truly desire. Or you may retain some abilities, but lose the aid of…” He hesitated, finally finishing with, “all of us, in your struggle with the ardeur.”
Translation: It might not go away, and if you've still got it when you've left, I won't help you.

Yeah, loyal readers: Your abuser will always have a reply. Always. Do not EVER EVER EVER try to reason with an abuser. Don't interact with them, don't discuss your choice. Make a plan to deal with their attempts to get you back (which ought to involve hanged-up phones, a new place to live, and as many friends between you and them as you can possibly get) and then LEAVE. If you let them start talking there's a good chance they'll talk you into staying, and this time staying might kill you.


And finally, Jean Claude, Micah AND Richard all bring out the big gun: Leave, and you'll die.

“I simply do not know what will happen, because what I feel you doing is impossible. Only true death should be able to break you free of my marks. Since what you attempt has never been done, I do not know what the outcome will be.” His voice was utterly bland, empty, as if his words meant nothing.
Micah touched my face, turned me to look at him. I could see him clearly, finally. His kitty-cat eyes were so serious. “Nothing that is happening is worth dying over, Anita, please.”

Richard hugged me from behind, bending all that six-feet-plus of warmth and muscle around me. “Please, Anita, don’t do this.” His breath was so warm, almost hot, against my hair.

This is textbook. As in I can name about fifteen different situations where exactly this happened to people. Most of them are people who tried to escape a cult (IE Elissa Wall, Marc Headley, Carolyn Jessop, Jenna Miscavage-Hill) but I know a few where women tried to escape individual abusers and had to either run for their lives or find the nearest thing to a bunker to live in, just to get away.

And Anita gives in. This entire situation is treated like a loving intervention on Jean Claude, Richard, Micah and Nathanial's part, and not a classic case of an abusive system struggling to retain a key member. Their loving embraces and kisses and concerned faces are described in warm and glowing terms... Or to TL:DR everything up there:


I want you to take three seconds and imagine an abuse victim on the cusp of bottoming out and running, reading this. This isn't just the senario, kids. LKH IS WRITING VERBATUM WHAT ABUSERS SAY. This is exact. THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENS. THIS IS HOW IT WORKS. And she's saying that it's a loving, concerned act on their part, because clearly the victim just went momentarily insane.

The vomit bucket is over there.

And of course Anita decides to stay for Damian's sake. Jean Claude says that they must "reawaken" Anita's powers because she shut everything down in her aborted escape attempt. He demands she drop her sheilds and her cross and submit to him completely. Which is standard fare: Abusers will require their victims to preform an act of contrition for the "sin" of trying to leave them. It's a pretty key stage in psychological manipulation; your victim has decided that all the holds you've got on them aren't enough to keep them from running, so you have to get another hold on them before they try to run again. Surrender has a kind of indebtedness to's very difficult to admit you were wrong about someone after you abase yourself in front of them. Your pride would rather have you continue to be at risk than deal with being ashamed...and that's not intended as a condemnation of pride, just a descrption of mental function. Pride is not evil. Shame is painful. Even if you are not at fault for the circumstances you are in, you will still feel responsible and ashamed for being there. Feeling shame is not an admission of guilt. It's something hard wired into our psyche and we don't get a choice about whether or not we feel it. An abuser knows this and will deliberately manipulate their victim into circumstances that are shameful so that the victim has to choose between their freedom and debilitating psychological agony. If the victim tries to run, that just means the abuser hasn't found something shameful enough, and they need to step up their game.  The next time the act of contrition will be bigger, the fallout more painful, and escape will become that much harder.

In other words, blog-readers: The shame isn't yours. There's no reason to feel it. You'll still feel it, but it is alright to let it blow through you without owning it. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.

I admitted to myself in that one moment why I’d stopped wearing a cross most of the time. Oh, I kept one in my vampire-hunting bag, but I didn’t wear one much. To bed, but, oh, hell. I kept waiting for the cross to glow when I did something. I kept waiting for the cross to glow because of some vampiric ability that I’d inherited from Jean-Claude. I kept waiting for it to glow against me.
Abusers also use religion as a way to manipulate their victims. "You're so bad, God will never love you" is a pretty common theme, usually followed by "Unless you do every little thing I tell you." That's another reason to continually force victims into activities the victim finds shameful: Going back means admitting you did those things for nothing. That is a very difficult hurdle to overcome, and it is one that abusers deliberately invoke over and over again. Having to face your peers and/or your religious beliefs after abandoning them is an extraordinarly painful experiance. Having to say "I'm sorry" to your friends and family. Having to repair broken credit, or return to your religion after doing things you know were abhorrant to it. One of those "acts of contrition" I mentioned earlier, that Abusers will frequently make victims preform is further rejection of their old families and support systems, another step of alienation that makes it that much more unlikely for the old support system to reach out to the victim, or for the victim to reach out to the support system. Their goal is to make you feel so bad about yourself, you feel that you aren't worth helping. And they will continually push you further and further into that belief system.

This is one reason, dear readers, why it is VERY important that you never judge someone in an abuse situation. People in abusive systems frequently become abusive themselves, (See Anita) precisely because nothing alienates a healthy individual from a sick one as fast as abusive behavior. This means the victim may be just as dangerous as the abuser. You may have to take steps to protect yourself from the individual, but if you care for that person, it's very important that you not allow their behavior to alienate you too far. Don't get involved in their life (it's dangerous for you AND for them) but make sure they know that when they're ready to run, you'll be there. And take the time to study the literature on their situation so that you can take the steps necessary to protect yourself and them when they finally make a break for it.

Basically, keep your distance, keep yourself safe, but let them know you're still there. You could save their lives.

Everybody else clears out of the room and Asher and Jean Claude drown Anita in a memory-flood that seems to be every sexual experience they've had together, ever. Anita freaks out a little bit because she's overwhelmed, Richard gets some of it, a couple other people get knocked on their ass because of it, and Jean Claude makes absolutely sure that Anita knows it is all her fault:

“I would have preferred other memories to share, ma petite, but when you breached your unnatural shields, I did not dare restrict your access to me. I did not dare shut the marks down again.”
Nathanial then disappears, and it turns out he went to go spoon-feed Damian his energy until Anita was "ready" to support them both again, and Jean Claude tells her that if she doesn't get back with the program, they'll both die. End of chapter.

This chapter was very difficult for me to do without breaking something. This scenario isn't a hypothetical to me. I've seen it happen to people I love over and over and over and over again. I've had to give the "Distance yourself, but let them know you'll be there when they're ready" speech to a couple other friends of mine within the last four months. I had a relative I love marry a verbally abusive alcoholic who spent years playing this exact cycle out, over and over and over again, until he got tired of it. Each time she ran, he started this intensive campaign of alternating threats and affection until he convinced her she'd be safer with him than running from him. It wasn't over until he decided he was ready to move on. And the next woman he moved on to? Yeah. He beat her.

When a woman winds up in a cycle like this, it is not her fault. It is not her fault she's in it, it's not her fault she stays. I've seen it often enough to say that it's not her choice she stays, because the punishment cycle is so brutally manipulative, unless you make a clean break you don't get enough time to choose what you do next. You're not weak because you went back. You were manipulated and abused and assaulted. No human being is perfect. All of us will eventually collapse if enough pressure is applied. People in abusive systems are often convinced they are still safer in the system than they would be trying to escape...and they are frequently right.

Abuse cycles are all predictable, unless you're inside them. You think it'll be different because that's what he's telling you, and he's not giving you enough time to think deliberately. He's breaking you down because he knows goddamn well the second you believe in yourself, you're gone. But the one thing you need to realize, hypothetical blog-reader, is that no matter how bad it is now, it will get worse. It will ALWAYS get worse. You CANNOT stay in that relationship. Your best case scenario is that he will lose interest and leave you. The alternative is that it will continue, and continue to escalate, until you're dead. You CANNOT bargain with him. You CANNOT rescue him. You have no responsibility for what is happening to you, which means you have no way of preventing it or changing him. When you are in an abusive relationship, the only thing you can do is leave. Don't talk to him. Don't bargain. Don't reason. RUN.

But also understand: The most dangerous time in your relationship will be after you run, while they are trying to get you back. And they will ALWAYS try to get you back. Don't tell them that you plan to run. Don't give them warning. DO NOT HINT THAT YOU PLAN TO LEAVE. It will get worse. Don't let them know where you're going. Don't go to your mother's house. Don't go somewhere predictable. The absolute best thing you can do is leave the city/county/state, or if possible ,the country, and go somewhere he's never been before. Instruct all your friends not to even talk to him. Cut contact with his friends and the mutual friends. The first thing your abuser will do is try to seduce you into going back. The second thing he will try to do is destroy you. If there is even a chance that your abuser will turn violent, this is when he'll try to kill you. If you're not in immediate danger, take time to plan a clean break. Document what's happening. Find out what the legal steps you need to take are and TAKE those steps. Contact those friends and family he made you drop. Save up as much money as you can. Go get a pre-paid cell phone and hide it (or get a prepaid SIM card that will fit the cell phone model you already have. It'll be easier to hide) so that you can make plans without having so-and-so's name show up in your call logs or phone bills. If you can, get an emergancy-only credit card and hide that with the cell phone. The odds of any of this being completely necessary are very small, but those small odds aren't something you want to fuck around with. The only thing more dangerous than being in an abusive relationship is trying to get out.

I'm sorry for usurping the blog for a domestic violence rant, but this is one subject I can't let fly.  If this series were realistic, it would end either with Anita dead or running for her life with Edward as backup. NOTHING about this is nearly okay. And the subtext of "THIS IS WHAT TRUE LOVE LOOKS LIKE" is irresponsible, sickening, wrong-headed and utterly reprehensible. Every word you write contributes to someone else's thought process. Once again, Laurell K. Hamilton has written something that can contribute to getting someone killed. This is not love. This is not safe, and this is not even a matter of choice. This is a textbook example of life-threatening abuse and if this resembles any relationship you currently have, blog readers? GET. THE FUCK. OUT.

Edited to add: I was very quickly made aware that some of my language puts the responsibility of escape on the victim's shoulders. It's not your responsibility to escape. If you can, and you have the chance, TAKE IT. If you don't, or can't, that doesn't make you complicit in what is happening to you. 

Being disabled makes it a lot harder to get away. I've spent a few minutes researching options for disabled victims of abuse. So far I've just found hotlines. I do not know how effective they are. One thing that, at first glance, looks amazing is Freedom House in NYC . From what I've read so far, they cater to disabled victims of abuse. The sad thing is that they're not nationwide. However, you don't have to be a resident of New York City or even New York State to access some of their services.

If anybody here is aware of resources for disabled victims of domestic violence, PLEASE post in the links so I can add those options to this post. It's not just for this blog. Most of my family is involved in some form of social services, and I'm definitely going to pass as much information as I can to them and to people in my job.

Edit the second: I've managed to locate the resource sheet of disability services for my state.  Most of that is there for allies, but there are services that a disabled person may be able to use. I've also found/cobbled together some advice. It's probably not the best advice, but if you are disabled and in an abusive situation, I hope it'll be a place for you to start.

If you are disabled and an abuse victim and you're reading this, you've got access to a computer. If you cannot run, you can still contact your state and/or government services via e-mail and social media. You can also contact local advocacy groups. Corpus Christi, for example, has The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, Lighthouse for the Blind, and a few other services I remember but cannot find at the moment. Both of these services have e-mail addresses and social media connections, which means both centers can be contacted covertly. It may be possible to connect with an advocate without your abuser discovering. Make the attempt, though I'd advice you to make it ONLY if you believe you can make contact without being discovered. If your abuser discovers that you are using your internet connection to reach out for help, they WILL shut it down. Make it a habit to clear your browsing history. If possible, create disposable social media accounts and contact any outside people--family, friends, pastors--that you can trust, but ONLY if you believe that they can keep your new contact information secret and ONLY if they can be trusted not to alert your abuser that you've managed to contact people outside of their field of control. Also, if you receive regular visits from a social worker, a counselor, a doctor, or a police officer that you trust who is NOT connected to your abuser, tell them what is going on. ALL of those people HAVE to report what you tell them to the appropriate agencies, even if they do not believe you, and those agencies HAVE to look into what is going on. And most of these people are actively watching for exactly what you are going through, because that is why they have their jobs. The odds are that they absolutely WILL believe what you say. If it's possible for you, I would also recommend documenting everything you can safely document and keeping that record someplace accessible to you, but hidden from your abuser. If that means creating a fake e-mail account and e-mailing yourself a diary, start doing it tonight. If you have access to something like a kindle or an ipad, take pictures of physical abuse and investigate recording the verbal aspects, and again, store any pictures and recordings you can make someplace secure and accessible, like an e-mail account. DON'T post them anywhere public, because that can alert your abuser. DO NOT keep this documentation on the device. If it is at all possible, if and when your abuser is confronted have somebody with you that you can trust. Ideally, it should be an advocate intimately familiar with your disability who can assist the authorities in understanding your circumstances and can defuse any attempt by your abuser to silence you. The single most important thing you can do is refuse to be isolated.

It is not your responsibility to escape this, because you should not be in that position in the first place. But if you do want to get out, there are at least a few resources you can use to make the attempt. You don't have to accept that just because someone else is in a position of power over you, they get to hurt you. You should EVER have to endure abuse. You have every right to try to get away from it. You have the right to live safe, unmolested, unmanipulated and unabused, no matter what. You are not someone's "burden", their abuse is NEVER justified. You are NOT responsible for anything about your circumstances. YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR SITUATION.


  1. I want every single person in the world to read this.

  2. You know something?

    Some people are disabled. And abused by their caretakers. And they do not HAVE the option of running away.

    Thank you. I'd just like you to keep that in mind.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I didn't even think about that and I am incredibly sorry that I did not.

      That said, could you do me a favor? If you know of any resources, hotlines that work, or programs that aim at victims of domestic violence, can you pass them along? I want to know, and I want to pass that information on to my parents, my brother, and a couple people at my job. All of us are in a position to give that information to people who might need it, and my work, at least, does not have a lot of resources specifically for the disabled. I'm looking, too.

    3. Disabled victims of domestic violence, I meant. Because you are absolutely right. There's very few options for them and that makes me want to go on a rampage. NOBODY should be left in that position. EVER.

      It's not the victim's responsibility to run. It's OUR responsibility (Our being the able bodied, non abused who have the resources and the energy and the time) to provide a support system and the necessary intervention. That's not there, and a lot of people use its absence or failure to justify perpetuating abusive situations. I don't believe that women have a responsibility to run, any more than I believe that women have a responsibility to ANYTHING in an abusive situation.

  3. ugh I can't even read this one LKH's logic is so horrible.

    "Our brains are constantly processing information...." That whole paragraph is glorious

    1. If there is one thing I get right, I want it to be this. I want it on my fucking tombstone. I want people to understand this three thousand years from now.

      Thank you.