The Empty Chair: I Believe You

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Image Credit: Amanda Demme/New York Magazine

Warning: Triggers for abuse and assault

Last week a friend of mine was telling me about an incident that had happened when she was walking on her way to her local shop. In front of her were two girls. One in particular was stunningly beautiful and there were a succession of drivers that had honked at her in their cars as they had gone past. A man was walking in the opposite direction to them, but when he saw her he stopped and started heading towards her.

“Can I buy you dinner?” he kept shouting. She ignored him and carried on her conversation with her friend.

“Oi beautiful girl! Let me buy you dinner!”. By this point he had started walking faster in an effort to catch up with them. Again, she ignored him. Suddenly, he grabbed her on the arm and pulled her around.

The girl was startled, and lost her temper, screaming at him. (Note, I’ve toned down the conversation a little here…) Continue reading

Sticks and Stones

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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Bullshit.

Sticks and stones may indeed break my bones, but words have the power to stay with me forever.

Somebody from my primary school (children aged 4-11 for those of you outside of the UK) must have been in a nostalgic mood recently as they had posted up a selection of class photographs on Facebook, taken about 23 years ago. They appeared on my wall because one of my friends was tagged in there, and they instantly brought back a ton of memories.

Looking at those photographs, I can probably remember about 40% of those names, but there, right in the centre of one of them, was a little boy with tight curly hair, a pasty complexion and thick rimmed glasses. For the purposes of anonymity, I’m going to call him X.

I read through the many comments that had been written underneath by people that I hadn’t seen or thought about in years.

However, one in particular stood out.

I forgot that we went to school with Napoleon Dynamite.

Someone else had written something below about feeling guilt, but laughed about it all the same. My heart sank. I remember him, I remember his name and I even remember a cruel nickname that we called him. This skinny little boy was quiet and shy, and was bullied mercilessly to the point where he left the school because of the abuse that he suffered from so many. While I never considered myself to be a mean girl (although I wasn’t perfect), I remember one incident that still makes my stomach churn a little, all these years later.

Our primary school didn’t have a canteen, so we had to walk up to another building further up the road for our lunch, during which we were expected to hold hands in pairs. Nobody ever wanted to be near him, so he was forced to hold the hand of his sister, who was equally ostracised. I remember that they were walking in front of me once, and he turned around and looked at me.

“Eww, you’re kissing your sister,” I said to him, laughing with my friends and backing away so I wouldn’t have to walk near him. Even at that age, I knew what I had said was wrong, and I have no idea why I felt prompted to join in with everyone else. To my recollection that was the only thing I ever said to him during my entire school life with him. He didn’t say anything, he never said anything, he just turned around and carried on walking. I had no reason to dislike him – he never did anything to me at all, but I didn’t talk to him, I didn’t include him, I didn’t invite him to any of my parties. Almost nobody did – in my own little bubble he simply didn’t exist.

Karma came to bite me on the ass when I started high school. I was what my students would describe as a ‘boffin’ – I worked hard, was in the top sets for everything, played in the orchestra and band, was on the badminton team, and to my recollection received only one or two detentions throughout my five years at the school. Looking back, I was a bit of a know-it-all, I wasn’t considered to be as attractive and didn’t possess the same social skills as some of the more popular girls, but aside from getting involved in silly girly politics, I didn’t intentionally go out of my way to hurt anyone else and I had some friends.

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One boy in particular despised me almost from the first moment he met me, and he and his cronies tortured me for almost the entirety of my teenage academic life. He learned how to flick spit with the end of his tongue and he would frequently spit in my hair when stood behind me in a line. If I did or said something in a lesson he would go out of his way to tell the teacher to try and get me into trouble. He would concoct lies, spread rumours, and tell the older girls that I had said things about them to try and get them to beat me up. On several occasions, it almost worked, and being surrounded by lots of students while an older girl threatened me, screamed at me and pulled my hair because she had been told I’d been mean to her sister by this boy still remains one of the most terrifying moments of my entire life. He and his friends used to take great delight by repeating my name over and over whenever I would walk into a room, or would call me fat or ugly. When my friend tried to stand up for me, they did it to her too. Unfortunately, I was in most of my lessons too, and so it went on all day, every day.

At one point my father, who was a governor at the school, intervened, and this made it far worse. The boy started to use him as a way of trying to wind me up. However, what he didn’t know was the way my very angry and violent father treated my sisters and I when we were growing up, which was something I didn’t tell anyone until years later, so I couldn’t tell my father any more after this for fear of what he would do, both to me and to him. My father expected me to ignore it and would get angry and lash out at me when I got upset. It wasn’t as easy as that.

Looking back, many of these incidents were silly and childish, and nowadays wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, but I’ve always felt that my teenage years, while successful, were lived in fear. I cared so much about what my peers thought and adapted my behaviour to try to be accepted, and then spent many hours hiding in the music room during breaks and lunch times to avoid contact with people. I even attempted to befriend some of them, to be told “don’t talk to her, she’ll grass you up if you say anything about her.” Worse still, my self-confidence was on the floor. I believed that I was ugly. I believed that nobody liked me. I used to feel physically nauseous whenever I walked into my form room every morning because I knew what was going to happen. I was so stressed that I suffered from nose bleeds. I pretended to be ill so I didn’t have to go to school. I was the ultimate victim, feeling sorry for myself and constantly repeating different instances in my head until I had made myself feel anxious and depressed. I didn’t help myself in the slightest, but I didn’t deserve what I got. My saving grace was the fact that I worked hard, I got good grades and was able to get away from them as soon as I possibly could – while others were all crying and hugging on the last day, I happily skipped down the school drive knowing that I was going to be attending a performing arts college and would never have to see them again.

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I left school nearly seventeen years ago, and I’ve moved on – we all have – but I haven’t forgotten. Of the hundreds of people that I shared my lessons with, I am still very close to just one, and communicate regularly via Facebook with just two or three. I have a life that I am proud of, a supportive family, great friends and a wonderful bloke. While I don’t harbour any ill feelings towards them, I don’t wish to get in contact with any of those people I knew so many years ago ever again, and the photographs, and some of the comments written below them, served as a reminder as to why. I’m very sure they feel exactly the same way about me.

I take bullying extremely seriously as a teacher and am quite open in sharing my own experiences whenever I have had to deal with it. What I tell my students, and will continue to tell my students for as long as I am their teacher, is that the opinions of others don’t matter, especially those which have no connection to our lives and how we choose to live it. Some children are thoughtless and cruel and often they will continue to be just as awful in their adulthood. That’s their problem, not ours.

What matters is that we don’t allow ourselves to be the victim and, more importantly, allow those opinions to dictate what we do, who we are and how we act. What matters is that we can go through life being successful and happy, as kind and as generous as possible and be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of each day and know that we have done our best. What matters is that we like what we see in our reflection. Karma will often take care of the rest.

To X, and anyone else I treated unfairly along the way, I’m sorry. I hope he doesn’t read those comments and that, wherever he is and whatever he is doing, he’s happy.

What about you guys? Have you experienced bullying at any point in your life?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks

 

The Tale of a Sociopath Part 3

Over the last few days I have shared my story about my experiences with my sociopathic ex-boyfriend, and how I finally came to my senses and left him.

While I am reasonably open minded on the issue of religious beliefs, despite not being able to claim that I have a specific faith myself, I’m a big believer in karma.

Karma is a bitch. And for A, Karma came and bit him right on the ass.

I had moved out and was living in my own house. I was desperately struggling financially and was attempting to come to terms with the events of recent years, along with trying to cope in my first full-time job after graduating. I had little contact with him – he had convinced me to meet him in the local pub about a week after I left with the intention of giving me my things back that I had left behind, but when I arrived he hadn’t brought anything. He told me I owed him money for the house, he was lonely and he missed me. I left, and never spoke to him again. Continue reading

The Tale of a Sociopath Part 2

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Yesterday I told you about my experiences with a sociopathic ex boyfriend, ‘A’. I had met him at university through a mutual friend. There had been a few things that we had bonded over during our first few weeks together. I had been brought up with a violent father, and he told me he had been sexually abused by his step-father, who his mum was still married to, and that his real father was his mum’s gay best friend who lived down the road from us and who we saw regularly. He had issues, but I wanted to help him. I trusted him. Over time he started to become more and more emotionally and verbally abusive. I found myself living with him in a house that his parents had bought for him, and my self confidence was at rock bottom. I believed I loved him, that our relationship was worth the time, and so I ignored the warning signs that were telling me that he was damaged.

It took an weekend for things to change.

He was working as a manager in a store around the corner from our house. He had complained that morning that it was going to be a long day and that he would have to work a double shift as one of the other managers had been sacked for stealing, so he wouldn’t be home until about 11.00pm. I felt sorry for him as it was a Saturday and he had worked really long hours that week already, and was worried about his health as he had told me that he had been diagnosed with skin cancer. At about 5.00pm I made him some sandwiches and decided to take them to him to cheer him up. When I arrived he wasn’t there, and his place was a young female that I had never seen before. At that moment I knew. I knew something wasn’t right. Without telling her who I was, I asked if she had seen him, and she told me that he was ‘in the pub with B.’ I knew B – she was an absolutely stunningly beautiful girl who had started working there a few months before. A had mentioned her a few times, often joking about her lack of intelligence and her strong accent.

I went to the only pub that I knew he would be in and looked in through the window. There he was, sitting in a T-Shirt and jeans instead of his uniform, with his arm around B. They were cuddled up in one of the booths, kissing.

I was dumbstruck. I had been told that he had cheated, but had never seen the proof for myself. I toyed with the idea of running into the pub and confronting him, but instead decided to walk away and calm down.

There is no better detective than an angry woman who has been lied to. I got home and summoned my inner Columbo, and I started to go through his stuff. I found a wage slip, and discovered that he didn’t have the job role that he claimed to. Instead, he was working for minimum wage, and had only been working for fifteen hours a week, instead of the full-time hours I thought he had been doing. In one of his drawers by the side of the bed were debt collection letters as he hadn’t been paying the bills, despite the fact that I had been giving him half from my student loan every month. Lying underneath them was set of gold female jewellery that wasn’t mine, and a pile of notes that added up to about £400.

I heard a beeping sound, and I checked the drawer below. He had left his phone behind, I’m assuming so I wouldn’t be able to contact him during the day. I couldn’t believe it – this was the holy grail. It was the days before the development of social media and smart phones, so he didn’t have a password. Shaking, I opened his messages. Even after everything I knew about him deep down, even I was shocked by what I saw.

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Message after message from women. Declarations of love, filthy and highly descriptive messages about what these people wanted to do to him and how they had enjoyed seeing him the day before and couldn’t wait to see him again. One message struck me in particular, and I’ll never forget it.

“Take care of yourself today. I always worry about you when you have to work. It’s such a dangerous job.” This was followed by crude messages about truncheons and the like. He had obviously told her he was working for the police.

I looked at his sent messages. The last one he sent was to B. It said “I’ll see you at 1. The stupid cow is at home. Love you.” She had responded with “ok hunny, love you too.”

His response? He shrugged his shoulders, telling me I should have kept my nose out of his stuff and that I should have trusted him. He denied everything, despite the proof, and our argument went around in circles for about an hour. The wage slip was an older one, and he was a manager now. The texts were sent by his friend as a joke. The money was from the money I had given him, which he was going to use to pay the bills. He didn’t know anything about the jewellery, it must have been mine (it wasn’t). I confronted him further about everything else he had told me, including what he had revealed about the abuse that he had suffered at the hands of his stepfather. He laughed at me and then denied ever saying that and that I must have been some sort of sick, deluded individual to make that up.

Being 23 years old, and with nobody to back me up, I used the only weapon I had in my armour. I told him that I was going to ring his mother and tell her what he had told me, about the abuse, ask her who his real father was, everything. He responded with “go on then” but when I picked up my phone he tried to take it off me, only stopping when I threatened to call the police if he laid a finger on me.

He broke down in tears and started to talk. He lied. He lied about everything. His mother’s husband was his real father. He hadn’t sexually abused him. He hadn’t been in the band. He didn’t have cancer. He had cheated on me, many times. He wasn’t earning the wages that claimed to have. He had even lied about silly things, like the fact that he had passed his driving test years before, which I discovered that he hadn’t. The jewellery was his mother’s, that he had stolen from her house, along with the money. He even admitted that on a daily basis he had given me little lies that made his day sound more ‘interesting’ and ‘exciting.’

And the best thing I had ever heard in my entire life – he went out with lots of other women so that he could figure out what women like and therefore he could be a better boyfriend to me.

I listened, but by this point my brain had started to wander. I’ve always considered myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, so how could I have been so stupid?

I told him it was over. He stopped crying, shrugged and said,

“Whatever. You’ll never find anyone as good as me anyway. Fat bitch.”

I moved into the spare room. I had nowhere to go, I was emotionally exhausted, and I remember lying on the bed and staring at the ceiling. Everything had become clear – all the little lies and inconsistencies finally fell into place. The next day, I got up and he greeted me with a friendly ‘morning gorgeous’ and tried to give me a kiss, as if nothing had happened. I told him I was going to move out, and then went to my room. He went ballistic and followed me, ranting and threatening me outside my door. Unbelievably, during one of these rants he screamed that I had used him and that he was planning on asking me to marry him. He started calling me a ‘stupid fat bitch’ and ‘a waste of oxygen’ and that I ‘deserved to be alone’ because I was an ‘irritating lazy cow.’ I then realised just how delusional he actually was – he clearly had no perspective on reality. That evening, I found the lyrics to James Blunt’s ‘Goodbye My Lover’ handwritten on a piece of paper outside my door.

Within two days I borrowed money and had moved into my own house with my cat. I was in such a rush that I left half of my belongings behind. I didn’t tell him where I was moving to, although he tried to find out on a few occasions.

Best decision I ever made.

I then discovered that karma was on my side. Karma can be a bitch…

The Tale of a Sociopath

I read an article this morning that announced plans to give jail time to people who emotionally abuse their spouses.

About bloody time.

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When I was at University I became involved with someone who turned out to be a sociopath. He never laid a finger on me – he attempted to on one occasion but after pinning him up against a wall and telling him in no uncertain terms that certain appendages would be removed if he went anywhere near me again from that point on he stayed well away…

I met A through a friend, during quite a low point in my life. He wasn’t my type at all physically, and he was quite effeminate, but he was nice to me and always seemed to say the right thing at the right time. We seemed to have so much in common, he made me laugh and he would arrive at my room in the Halls of Residence that I was staying at with something nice to eat for dinner and DVD’s to watch. We shared really personal experiences and talked about our hopes and ambitions. He confided in me  (something that he claimed he had never shared with anyone else) that his stepfather had abused him, and that his real father was his mother’s gay best friend, who I had met several times. I cried, but I was honoured that he chose to share something so personal with me. I thought I could trust him.

It wasn’t long before I moved into a house with him, along with a few other females who were my close friends. This was the point where things started to change. A started to find faults with my housemates and began complaining about them all the time. He would find situations to ‘defend’ me, claiming that they were insulting me and taking advantage of me. He started to cause fights with them, making it very awkward for me as I always seemed to be stuck in the middle. Very soon, the atmosphere was unbearable, and so we moved out into our own house. I felt so grown up – I planned how we were going to decorate everything and set about creating a ‘home.’ We even got a cat.

The thing about emotional abuse is that it isn’t possible to see it happening – it’s something that creeps up slowly into life over a period of time in a way that suggests it has always been there. Looking back, I think that it began immediately after we moved in together, but it was when we got our own house that things started to escalate. He started complaining about the standard of my washing up, then my ‘lack’ of housework around the house. My whistling started to annoy him – I remember him screaming ‘Will you stop f*cking whistling, you’re driving me insane!’ when I was pottering around one day. I spent too long in the bath. I was irritating. I talked too much. I was stupid. I ate crisps too loudly… It went on and on.

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My friends started to become more and more distant, and finally they admitted that they hated him. I was angry with them, demanding to know why. After many awkward glances between them, one of them admitted that she had slept with him not long after we got together. I was devastated, but after much arguing in which A denied everything, he and I just carried on as though nothing happened. My self confidence was shot, I was a poor student in a dire financial situation and I had nowhere else to go.

For a large amount of the time, he seemed pretty emotionless. One emotion, however, that would always flare up was anger. He became very ‘protective.’ He hated me leaving the house without him, and the only time where there wouldn’t be an issue was when I attended my lectures. He started to kick up a huge fuss if I wanted to go to the pub after class, and if I went without telling him I could guarantee there would be an argument waiting for me when I arrived home. His biggest annoyance was the fact that my best friend was (and still is) male. He hated him, to the point where he tried locking the doors to prevent me from leaving to meet him, and even changed a few digits of my friend’s phone number to stop me from calling or texting him.

Eventually, his parents bought him a house, and we moved in. The house was beautiful, but I didn’t live, I existed. He cheated on me twice more, which he vehemently denied but I didn’t want to leave because by this point he was what I knew, and he had started working in a brilliantly paid job, while I survived on my bus fare to get to university. The abuse continued, but it had become such a part of daily life I accepted it and worse still, didn’t really notice it as being a problem. I worried about him – he had quite a large mole on his chest that he went for tests at the doctors. He told me it was the early stages of cancer.

It took a single weekend to change everything…

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

No Means No!

imageWhen I was at University I worked at a local bar that was about ten minutes walk away from the apartment that I lived in. One Saturday afternoon I was on my way to a shift that started at 4.00pm. I was wearing a baggy blue checked shirt with the logo of the bar on it, long black trousers and a sturdy pair of black boots. I wasn’t wearing any make-up, my hair was tied up and I was minding my own business. Suddenly, I heard a man shout:

“Oi! Sexy! Where are you going?”

I turned around, thinking it was one of my friends. I didn’t recognise this man or his friend and so I turned around and carried on walking.

“Aww, don’t walk away! Where are you going? Give me your number!”

I ignored him, but the sound of his voice didn’t get any quieter. They were obviously following me.

“Hey baby, have you got a lighter? Come on baby, give me your number!”

I could see my workplace in the distance and I lost my temper, telling them in no uncertain terms to f*ck off in the hope that they would go away. They didn’t. Instead, they sucked their teeth at me and continued to follow, this time shouting abuse and calling me a ‘slag’ and and ‘f*cking stupid b*tch.’ They disappeared when I arrived at work, but it was the scariest experience I’ve had on my own in the street.

It was broad daylight, I wasn’t dressed in a provocative way and I hadn’t prompted any conversation or even looked at them in a way that would suggest I was interested in them. However, it could have been 3.00am and pitch dark, I could have been wearing a bikini and could have applied my make-up on with a shovel, and my thoughts on the matter would still be the same:

No means no.

I’ve been extremely lucky in life. As I write I am sitting next to The Bloke. He towers over me, being 6’3″, he weighs more than me and is considerably stronger than I am, but in the years that I have known him there hasn’t been a single moment where I have felt the least bit intimidated by him. In fact, I haven’t felt physically intimidated by any man that I have dated or had a relationship with (not that there have been many) and I have never engaged in activities that I didn’t want to do.

Unfortunately, some of my friends haven’t been so lucky.

I awoke this morning to the news of the tragedy in Santa Barbara. An obviously mentally ill young man took the lives of six innocent people, before killing himself, an incident that once again leaves everyone in shock. To make matters worse, he created a 141 page manifesto in which he stated that all women should be placed in concentration camps and starved to death, and this has prompted and understandably aggressive stance on the issue of gender equality, assault and abuse across my social media networks. The trolls are out in force – I was horrified to see this conversation posted on Twitter…

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I’m proud to be a woman, and as a woman I believe that I should be treated equally. I should be paid the same wages as a man in the same role and should be offered the same opportunities as my male counterparts. It shouldn’t automatically be assumed that my status as a female means that I will spend my life raising children and/or looking after a home. Above all, I believe that I shouldn’t be harassed or propositioned and should be treated with respect, not just because I am a woman, but because I am a human being.

I’ve seen some really interesting conversations this morning and I seen examples of some of the arguments that were offered in my own life. However, there were a few things that annoyed me slightly – there were some women who seem to be blaming ALL men for this, when most are actually kind, hard-working genuine people, and it isn’t just women who are assaulted. Still, it still doesn’t take away from that fact that no means no, regardless of gender or circumstance.

For example:

Women can easily manipulate men by using sex. An ex-friend of mine is beautiful, but she was highly aware of this and used it to her advantage. During her 18 month relationship with a rich older man she frequently told me that she wasn’t attracted to him, that having sex with him made her skin crawl and that she only did it because he bought her things. However, he didn’t force her at any point to do anything, she did so willingly.

But no means no.

Men can easily manipulate women by using money. A male friend that I haven’t seen in years is rich and he will spend his money on women so they will sleep with him (which he admitted to me when he was drunk).

But no means no.

Women will dress provocatively and are perfectly happy to be chatted up by someone that they find attractive, but they will take offence and refer to them as a ‘pervert’ if they find them unnattractive. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I have seen this happen in nightclubs.

No still means no.

It isn’t just women who are sexually objectified. One of my male friends, who is extremely attractive and has a very defined, muscular body is often groped by drunken women when we go out, particularly if he wears tight T- shirts. His male friends joke about it, but sometimes I can see that he’s really uncomfortable. And male rape is extremely common, it just isn’t talked about.

No means no for men too.

Some women will ‘friend zone’ men without being honest about their feelings and giving the impression that they are romantically interested, keeping them hanging on just enough to give them hope just in case they can’t find anyone that they deem to be better, and this often leaves the men feeling angry and frustrated. The Bloke, being the quintessential ‘nice guy’ has told me many stories of instances where he has been used by his female friends and then promptly friend zoned later, leaving him heartbroken (and obviously, they didn’t know a good thing when they had it – more fool them!)

And again, no means no.

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No means no if you’re a man or woman.

No means no whether you’re in a relationship with a person or whether you’ve just met them.

‘Not now’ means no.

‘I’m in a relationship’ means no.

‘No thanks’ means no.

‘I’m not interested’ means no.

If I have been out in the evening to a local bar, one of my male friends will walk me home or The Bloke will walk down and meet me. If I’m in town my friends will walk me to a taxi station and will insist that I ring them when I am home safely, and I do the same for them. I’m lucky to have great friends, but I shouldn’t have to go through that process. I shouldn’t have to fear walking down the street at night by myself, I shouldn’t have to consider what I wear in case it attracts attention, and I shouldn’t have to avoid eye contact or innocent conversations with people just in case they assume I am hitting on them.

imageThe events in Santa Barbara are horrific, and it has once again brought to light the stigma and taboo that still surrounds the issue of abuse and assault. I hope that instead of feeding the trolls, we can learn from this tragedy and continue to educate each other and our children that no does in fact mean no. And to those of you who have suffered at the hands of another person… You are not alone. Say something. Talk to us. We’re here.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog