(Disclaimer: please excuse the cliche in the title – those who follow my blog know that I do not like cliches and hesitate to use them, as most writers do. But sometimes, a title just fits too well…)
What makes them think that it does? What makes them think that because someone hurt them, they have the right to hurt someone else?
My mom, whom I love very much, reads my blog.
Excuse the personal indulgence:
Mom, please, if you do read this post, do not read it by yourself. Please. You have too much pain in your life to deal with right now already. Listen to your daughter.
In the past few years, as I learned more and more about abuse, particularly sexual abuse, and trauma, I learned the term, “grooming.”
No, this is not the kind that refers to pampering your dog, or brushing your hair, or shaving your legs…
This refers to the type of grooming that men who abuse women, particularly sexual predators, use to reel in their vulnerable female victims. (**More often than not, men are the perpetrators, statistically, however, women can also be predators and groom victims – men or other women or children**).
What happens, in general, is that the predator identifies a vulnerable person and manipulates his or her weaknesses. Whatever it is he or she needs, the groomer fulfills that need. It is most often romantic tactics: attention, compliments, physical affection, gifts, and the like.
**For the purposes of this post, I will identify the predator using the male gender, but again – it can be a woman – even though statistically, it is usually a man.**
In my case, it was a man – who caught me at one of the most vulnerable times in my life.
In 2006, my longtime boyfriend, Jim, dumped me in an email. (I found out later he’d been cheating on me, and that his lover became pregnant while he was dating me, and sleeping with her, too. This was not mentioned in that email, of course).
The trauma and humiliation and confusion of that breakup left me vulnerable to the sex predator who’d been waiting in the wings for 2 years, as a “friend,” to groom me…which he did.
I was still so much in love with my ex, Jim, that I was not open to falling in love with anyone else for a long time. The “friend,” the man who groomed me, whom I will call “Garp” (one of his favorite literary characters), knew exactly what I needed: comfort, attention, affection, companionship, validation…all the things you might think a girl who’d had her heart broken might be looking for to soothe the pain.
And he knew it. He took advantage of it. He preyed upon that.
Over the course of the next year, off and on, this man preyed upon my insecurities and weaknesses, some of which arose from the loss of Jim, some of which arose from a lifetime of open wounds.
He was always available, he complimented me, told me I was beautiful and sexy, he bought me gifts and took me on dates, and was basically at my beck and call.
To my credit, I was honest with him. I told him I was not in love, and would not be. I told him that this was a transitional relationship for me. Having told him that, I felt I had done my duty by being honest.
He was not discouraged, but little did I know, he had his own agenda, too.
Around the same time I first met “Garp” online (on one of those defunct personals sites), I took a self-defense class where the instructor told us to read the book, The Gift of Fear.
All women should read this book.
If only I had applied what I learned in that book to “Garp,” I would have been saved from being another one of his victims. And perhaps I would have recognized the grooming for what it was: breaking down all my defenses such that by the time he showed his true colors, it would be too late to fight back.
Part of the reason I never fought back is that I didn’t realize I was being victimized by a seasoned predator. “Garp” convinced me that he was the victim because he was spending all his time, money and attention on me without being “loved” in return.
And I felt guilty. He wanted that. He needed me to feel guilty so that he could control me. Which he did. He controlled what I thought and believed, and how much I needed him.
To the point that on that afternoon in July 2006, I shut down, I talked myself out of it, I told myself that this was not really happening to me. I even told myself, while it was happening, that it was my fault, because he told me it was, that I led him on, that I deserved it.
A good man, a decent man, a man who was not an abuser, would not have done that, even if the “love” was not mutual.
One would think that when he didn’t stop, when I begged him to stop, and when he ignored how I cried, during the whole thing, that I’d recognize I was being assaulted, and try to get away.
But I didn’t. I was paralyzed. I did what many women do.
I disassociated from the moment and pretended that it was not what it was.
I was in shock, later, to the point that I kept seeing him for a few more months. The grooming was so successful that I even reached out to him off and on into the following year of 2007.
It was not until April 15, 2007, that the full impact of who “Garp” was, and what he had done to me, began to have some degree of clarity. And, I finally began to face the reality – this man I had previously given consent to, decided, one day, to take what he wanted without that consent.
On the night of April 15, 2007, “Garp” and I had a heated argument on the telephone, and the truth came out. His truth – came out.
He told me that he’d never wanted to be friends, that he had been after sex (and money, too, I figured out, though he did not say so). He used everything I’d ever told him in confidence, every weapon he could pull out of his arsenal, to humiliate and break me with his words: he told me no one would ever love me, that every man but him would leave me. He said my supposed college education was worthless because all I had to show for it was a clerical job (I was an administrative assistant at UCSD at that time). He said that I’d lose everyone I ever loved because of my mental illness (I have struggled with anxiety disorders and depression throughout my life).
Bottom line: he told me in every which way he could think of that I was worthless, that my life would amount to nothing, that I was unlovable, and that I had no chance of ever changing that unless I stayed with him.
They say history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes (another cliche, ugh).
“Garp” was so familiar – so much like the original abuser – my ex-stepfather, Barry, whom my mother stayed with for 27 years, from the time I was about 10 years old, until she finally cut him out of her life in 2009.
Too late to undo the damage he’d done to me.
Both “Garp” and Barry hated their mothers. Both of them seemed to hate women, in general, now that I think of it.
And both of them were abusive predators.
But, maybe that’s just a coincidence. Who am I to say…
Let’s start with “Garp,” although, the irony is: one day in 2006, when Barry first met “Garp,” he warned me and my mother that “Garp” was dangerous and should not be trusted.
“It takes one to know one..” (another, ugh, cliche), but in this case, it gave me chills – I knew something was wrong.
“Garp” had no boundaries: emotional, verbal, physical…none.
When I lived in Santa Barbara in 2006, he used to drive from San Diego to Santa Barbara without telling me he was coming, until he was about 30 minutes away from my home. He did not care that he was not invited or that it was a bad time to visit. He’d come anyway, uninvited. One time he just showed up, unannounced, altogether. Every time, knowing I was too nice to say no, he guilted me into letting him stay for the weekend. Over and over again.
Apparently, during one of these weekend visits, “Garp” broke into my MySpace account – I had the password saved in my computer.
I didn’t find out until two years later when I contacted Jim’s wife on Facebook (he had married the woman he cheated on me with). I was having one of those moments in my life when I made a not-so-healthy choice – I wanted to ask her one question, and one question only: “Did you and Jim get married?” (They did).
Little did I know that she had been angry at me for two years. Because – in May 2006, someone (Yes, it had to be “Garp”) had pretended to be me, and wrote her a hostile note from my MySpace profile.
She kept referring to me contacting her before, which I hadn’t, but she insisted. The more I insisted she was mistaken, the more angry she became about the denial on my end. It was the truth, but it was obvious that something had happened to set her off.
Finally, after three or four times of me insisting that I had no idea why she was so mad at me, nor did I have a clue as to what she was talking about, she finally said, “Let me refresh your memory…You wrote me, Enjoy your time with that womanizer while you can. You will be hurt soon enough.”
Now, luckily, Jim must have talked her down because some people could have read it as a physical threat. I would not have, but some people would. In any case, “Garp” had intentionally put me in jeopardy of having charges filed against me for online threats – as I see the situation he put me in.
I knew why he did it. We’d had a fight that weekend, in San Diego, about Jim, whom he was always insanely jealous of – because I loved Jim, and did not love him. He used to call Jim horrible names, and so on. On this particular weekend, I walked into a bar with “Garp” and Jim was there. Jim did not speak to me, or vice versa. It was the first time I’d seen him since the breakup email.
Though I had never intended on contacting “Garp,” much less seeing him again, after 2007, because of this “revelation,” I ended up asking him to meet me in a public place. I confronted him, and, as one would expect, he gave me his best stone-cold poker face – and lied. Denied the whole thing. He even claimed – with a straight face – that my mother must have done it.
Right, like my mom would ever do such a thing. She was the only other person who had access to that computer, but not only had she never even heard of MySpace, but really, my mother would impersonate me, and send a hostile threatening note to my ex-boyfriend’s lover?
Gaslighting – pure and simple. “Garp” gaslighted me – though I did not know the term at the time, it is another common tactic of abusers and predators. The term refers to the method in which predators and abusers convince their victims that they are “going crazy,” and do not know what reality is, in order to exert power and control over them. (The phrase was coined from the title of the film, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman).
“Garp” told me a lot about the other women – mostly about the woman he loved before me, Jennifer, and the woman, Lori, he used (by his own admission) after me. I feel particularly guilty about Lori – but he had her so convinced that I’d victimized him that she hated me, to the point that I was afraid of her – and him – so I did nothing.
I feel so guilty that I did nothing. Especially because she had an 8-year old son. I worried about that for years. I still do when I think about it.
“Garp” was an expert – at grooming, at gaslighting – at turning his women against each other to the point that we could not save each other, much less save ourselves.
It reminded me of my mother and me, and Barry – and how he convinced my mother he had been victimized by his ex-wives, and by me, and by his other stepdaughter from his second marriage (Mom was his third wife).
History may not repeat, but it rhymes…
On the night of January 1, 2007, I let “Garp” pet sit Toby for me while I was at an overnight sleep study to test for sleep apnea.
Toby never liked “Garp.” And vice versa.
I should have listened to my dog. Always, always listen to your dog.
The guilt I feel for what I put Toby through – that troubles me the most. Children and animals – should not be exposed to any of that. Adults get to make choices with their lives – children and pets don’t.
“Garp” used to glare at Toby, and was jealous of my relationship with Toby (a warning sign, I know now), but never touched him, so…I thought everything was fine.
I will never forgive myself because it wasn’t.
A few weeks after “Garp” stayed overnight with Toby, he emailed me photographs of copies of some of the pages of my diary.
Yes, while pet sitting for me, “Garp” had gone through my things, read my diary, found some entries about another man I was seeing, put my dog in his car, and from what he described, put my dog’s life in danger on a road rage trip to Kinko’s to Xerox the pages.
Then, he waited, and bided his time before striking – before blindsiding me with the rage in that email.
He made excuses, of course, for his behavior – he was supposedly just looking for paper to write on.
Months later, I was driving home from work, long after I had cut him out of my life, and lo and behold, I drove past “Garp,” who was driving down my street, which was nowhere near his own job, or his own apartment.
It wasn’t until Audie that the stalking ended.
In 2009, shortly after Audie and I started dating, I came into work the day after my birthday (I’d taken that day off), and found a dozen long-stemmed red roses in a crystal vase on the desk, with a card, and a CD.
At first, I thought Audie had surprised me with this post-birthday gift. (Audie was a project scientist in the UCSD School of Pharmacy and I was an executive assistant to the chair of the UCSD Mathematics Department when we met).
Nope. They were from “Garp,” whom I had not heard from since he lied to me about the MySpace incident.
He had sent the roses, and the CD of love songs he’d created to express his love for me, and a card with a long, long letter describing, in detail, his obsessive romantic feelings for me, and some extras I won’t publish.
I was terrified.
To this day, I am hoping that I stupidly had mentioned to him where I worked, or given him my business card. Or else how did he know I worked in the Mathematics Department? I had changed departments/changed jobs within UCSD since that April 2007 phone call, but I told myself it was possible I’d told him I was working in the math department, as small talk, leading up to the 2008 confrontation over the MySpace message.
I told Audie about it, and it took several emails back and forth, but Audie got him to stop – in Audie’s uniquely gifted way of handling difficult situations, and difficult people, without escalating conflict.
But – it was not the end of the emotional trauma for me.
What was worse, was the guilt I felt, and the shame – the shame of feeling I had brought this on myself – by not protecting myself, by not knowing better.
For I felt I should know better, and that I had brought it on myself – because he was not my original abuser.
I didn’t listen to Barry that day he met “Garp” in Santa Barbara, even though “the gift of fear,” and my gut instinct, told me to.
Why should I trust my original abuser?
Because he was looking in a mirror – Barry saw himself, in “Garp” – that’s why.
I wish that the one time Barry was telling the truth I had listened. But I didn’t.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’d heard, and been taught, that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Just because “Garp’s” mother, and Barry’s mother, hurt them as little boys, did not give them the right to pay it forward, and hurt other women, or in Barry’s case, hurt other women and their daughters.
The 27-year-long history with Barry, and the assault by Mom’s first post-divorce boyfriend, when I was 6, have colored and complicated my relationship with my mom my entire life.
Unfortunately, because of what happened in my marriage – because of how the trauma led me to destroy my marriage – I think it always will.
I do hope to come to terms, someday, with how my mother, and my father, did not protect me. I love my parents – but – I also know my life would have been different had they protected me from child abusers.
Now that I am wiser, and have learned a great deal about trauma and abuse, I can at least be somewhat objective. I realize that Barry groomed my mom, long ago – to the point she could not even recognize an abuser, a predator, when one was coming right for her.
When Barry was dating my mother, he spoiled me, and her. Even when they got engaged (too quickly, I might add), he continued to dote on both of us – and on my brother.
After they got married, then, he changed. Oh, did he ever.
Unfortunately, my father, my stepmother, my grandparents…no one believed me. No one.
I tried to tell them about the verbal, emotional and physical abuse. They told me I was lying, or that I was imagining it.
Eventually I stopped trying to tell them.
There is a lot of detail, a lot of in between, too much to write in this one post (maybe another someday).
But, what I will say is that one day, I tried one more time, to be heard.
During my honeymoon in October 2010, Barry somehow got my new husband, Audie’s, email address, and wrote some inappropriate things about how I looked in my wedding dress.
Audie told me about it – he was confused as to what to do about it – it creeped him out, too.
Thanks to that email, which resulted from the wedding photos that my sister-in-law posted on Facebook, I suffered from intense PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) during the first month of my marriage.
That did it. That broke my silence.
I told my brother and my sister-in-law that while I was very ill in 2002 (and temporarily living with Mom and Barry), Barry had sexually molested me – several times.
They did not believe me.
They sided with the perpetrator, not the victim.
When someone breaks their silence, it is difficult to hear the truth – but – in the end – as therapists will tell you – the family members or friends end up having to make a choice – do they believe the victim or the perpetrator?
They have to choose to believe someone.
When I was a little girl, Barry did not do that, at least I don’t think he did (to be honest, I can’t be sure of anything anymore, in that respect, now that I know how the brain will protect itself from remembering trauma). As far as I remember, it did not happen – then.
However, I was always – constantly – afraid he would rape me. Constantly.
It probably had something to do with the way he walked around the house naked, with no apologies – with a sense of arrogant narcissism that is the hallmark characteristic of an abuser. He talked about having sex, and about his sexuality, overall, as if he could pounce – at any moment.
I never felt safe from him.
As it turns out, the “gift of fear” served me well, there.
Growing up in my mother’s house, I kept my distance from Barry as much as I could. I fought back against, and defended myself against, the worst verbal, emotional and physical abuser of my lifetime -as best as I could. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why he never did rape me when I was a teenager.
After Barry’s death a few years ago, we found out from his brother that Barry was a child molester – that he had sexually molested little girls, teenage girls.
He did have another stepdaughter – one that he groomed – one who adored him, and vice versa, to the point that my mother was actually jealous of her.
Why am I telling you all this?
Good question. There is much more that I’m not telling you.
It comes back around to other posts I have written about PTSD, about trauma, about abusers, and how they manipulate their victims into believing it is their fault that they were abused – about how they manipulate their family and friends into believing that the victims, the ones who have the courage to speak out, are lying.
There are cases, from what I understand, where that does happen.
But it is also my understanding that it is the exception, not the rule.
In fact, what is more common is what I described – the victim is silenced – sometimes for decades – and when they do finally come forward – when they do finally speak out – no one believes them.
No one believes us.
No one believed me.
No one, except my husband – Audie.
Thank God, Audie believed me. I will always love him for believing me.
My mother, being a victim herself, which I won’t write more about at this time, made excuses for Barry, for many reasons, and now, I understand why she did that. For years, I felt it was a betrayal – another way of me being silenced and censored – but now, I understand how emotional abuse works, how women, how people, are groomed into making excuses for their abusers.
I’ve done it myself. We don’t know we are doing it – not until we get help – not until we discover there are many others like us – that we are not alone.
“Garp” made excuses for himself, too – blaming the women, blaming his mother, blaming his sister, blaming, blaming, blaming…
Barry blamed it on me, on his ex-wives, on my father, on the alcohol, on the cocaine, on his mother…
Even if all that is true – even if their mothers have everything to do with how they became abusers – that is no excuse. (In Barry’s case, pedophilia is much more complicated than that – there is some brain pathway research to support that).
Remember what we are taught – “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The cycle of abuse is real, though. It is easy for those abused as children, to become abusers themselves, and to become victims of abuse, again, in their adult relationships later in life.
But, it is not inevitable, and once recognized, there is help, and healing can stop that cycle.
I have always been sensitive about being censored – it came up often in my marriage – and I did not understand why, until recently.
The reason why I was so defiant with my husband about not being censored was because when I tried to tell my family Barry was hurting me – no one believed me. And when Bertram Maltz assaulted me in my bedroom when I was 6 – he censored me, too, by threatening to kill my mother and me. By telling me I deserved it, and I better not tell anyone.
And that censorship became integrated into my psyche as part of the abuse – so much so that I lost my sense of realistic expectations – of realistic limitations with my own husband.
I understand the difference now. I wish I’d figured it out sooner – sooner in my marriage.
The censorship – the silence I was forced into keeping for years – became part of the trauma – part of the shame – part of the pain.
The only way to break through that, is to understand what it really is about, and to create healthy boundaries, where it is safe to speak – where those we love want us…to speak.
When they speak, please listen.
Believe the women.