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BDSM/Fetish

The Line Between BDSM and Emotional Abuse

For this reader, the line was difficult to see at first:

Thank you to Olga for publishing her compelling article on emotional abuse. Normally I would post a Facebook comment to convey my appreciation for a great article, but much like the woman in the story, I am not keen on having my own struggles go fully public. Also much like Lauren, I’m an alumna of an Ivy League university, I grew up with parents who have been happily married for 30+ years (they are still married and in love with each other), and I could not see from the inside that my last relationship was abusive.

I was completely in love with my ex, who is an active-duty member of the U.S. Coast Guard. My own career is in animal rights. I have a master’s degree and spend my days investigating cruelty to animals, doing research and writing as well as handling animals directly in an office that doubles as a shelter. Most of the animals who come to our shelter have been abused by awful humans.

My ex has been a vegetarian for several years and acts compassionately toward animals and humans. He is exceedingly liberal, leaning toward socialist. He’s been a Coastie for nearly 20 years and looks fantastic in the uniform, he’s in charge of maybe a dozen people on board his (relatively small) ship, and he loves the search-and-rescue aspect of his job. How could I have possibly found the one member of the military whose philosophies and ethics align so closely with mine? Dream come true!

When I first met him, I was over the moon, and he apparently was, too. Things moved so quickly that within a month or two, we were discussing moving in together. I was dealing with PTSD that came from a violent rape two years before we met, and I had a few physical triggers that would send me into hour-long panic attacks. He was patient with me, telling me he wanted to help me heal and recover from the PTSD.

We are both into the BDSM lifestyle, and he was both my boyfriend and my Dom. He would test my limits, and I would tell him “please don’t do this without verbally warning me beforehand.” He would abide by that for a while until he “forgot” and did it again without the verbal warning we’d agreed was necessary.

He would tell me things like he was being supportive and patient with me to help me heal, and I felt like nobody else would ever be that kind or compassionate with me. I felt that I was too damaged for anyone else to be willing to deal with me.

I now realize that he systematically, slowly, broke down my self-esteem and sense of self-worth until I was fully dependent upon his approval. I compromised who I am as a person and the basic tenets of what makes me happy.

He spends two months in port and two months underway. He was at sea in September and we were keeping up our communication, emailing every day and speaking by phone when he was in a port of call. When he went 36 hours without emailing me, I wrote to him that I was worried; it had been longer than usual and I hoped everything was OK.

He wrote back and broke up with me, without any warning whatsoever, because he found that he was not as excited as he used to be about making plans with me returning home. I was completely devastated and suicidal. My friend took me to the emergency room and I was committed to the psych ward at the hospital. I was there for a week. I didn’t eat for the first four days because the stress triggered a relapse into a decades-long eating disorder. They threatened to put me on a feeding tube after I passed out while the nurses took blood one morning. I began eating again, but since then (for maybe six weeks) I have been caught in this full-blown eating disorder, struggling to find footing, unable to run like I used to because of debilitating physical side effects from the medications they put me on in the hospital. I am an endurance runner, and when I can’t go for my daily runs or my long runs on the weekend, it messes with everything from my mood to my eating habits.

It took at least a half-dozen mental health professionals telling me that I had been emotionally abused for me to realize what had happened. I had so much anger following my hospitalization that I felt shocked at myself. I am a pacifist Buddhist who rarely feels that much anger. After a few weeks, it dissipated and left me with the deepest sadness I’ve ever felt. I am grieving the loss of the man I loved while I recover from the abuse he inflicted on me. The person I loved never existed.

Now I feel ashamed, humiliated, lonely, and worthless. I am unable to enjoy what I used to do for fun. Several men have approached me and flirted, expressing interest in dating and/or sex. Normally after a breakup I would jump at the chance for a rebound boning. This time, though, I panic at the thought of anything sexual. I cannot even touch myself in that way.

Friends have since told me that what I thought was special treatment from my ex is actually the absolute minimum for how a Dom should treat his sub, and he consistently transgressed the limits we discussed and negotiated. I trusted my ex enough that I allowed him to (consensually) tie me down and hit me with things. The depth of trust required for that is immense. That trust has been betrayed and I struggle every single day to comprehend how I will ever recover from the betrayal and abuse.

I had to get my locks changed because I felt unsafe in my apartment and he has a spare key. A friend actually called the cops one evening after I flaked on our plans to get a beer together. They found me cowering in the corner of my kitchen, unable to communicate. It took several hours before I was able to speak with her and hold a conversation. That is how terrified I was. She offered to go with me to the magistrate’s office and swear out charges for a protective order, but she is a prosecutor herself and knows that emotional abuse does not break any laws (at least not here in Virginia). I never swore out charges because there is no hard, physical evidence of the abuse and I do not want to stand in front of a judge and explain everything in humiliating detail.

When I was raped a few years ago, I also chose not to swear out charges because a) I felt that it was my fault and b) I could not bring myself to describe in detail in court what had transpired.

He is back on land until next month. Despite my final email to him telling him not to contact me (after I got out of the hospital), he emailed me several days ago to tell me he has what he calls an STD. It’s not really an STD—more of a virus that anyone can contract anywhere from direct contact, and it clears up on its own without treatment. It’s kind of like warts or ringworm except you don’t have to treat it at all. A close friend told me he’s trying to continue the abuse and manipulation. I panicked when I saw his name in my inbox and deleted it without replying. I don’t have the virus, and I was not going to give him the satisfaction of replying.

Every single day I struggle with the effects of the abuse. I feel that because I have no physical signs of trauma, nobody would even believe that it’s real. When I read Olga’s article this morning, though, I felt less alone. I felt validated. I felt that yes, this is a real thing and other people have survived and healed from it. The article was very hard for me to read and it made me cry. But it makes me feel like victims of this type of abuse matter. What we are dealing with is real and it’s painful and we can recover from it.

Source: theatlantic