Wednesday, 21 July 2021

After . Domestic Violence

 This is the beginning of a series called, "After." If you have seen any of my recent posts, you're familiar with the death and crimes of my late husband, Chris Goode. 

After my experiences dealing with various institutions, resources, and my own emotions/journey relating to a number of kinds of abuse, I wanted to put together a limited series of reflections.

These are not intended to be any kind of complete guide or watertight safeguarding document. Instead, there will be a video for each topic and a blog post. The video will walk through some (hopefully) useful bits of info and my experience regarding:

1) understanding and identifying abuse

2) what the process of reporting/addressing it looks and feels like

3) thoughts on recovery and seeking support

The blog post will be a bit more personal and meandering and sort of reflective - it's more of a companion piece to the video.

There won't be any personal details or more news or info about Chris or anything he did. There's no reason or expectation to read this, really, unless you're curious about some of the nuances of these forms of abuse or know someone who is/might be going through it...or you just want to, I suppose.

I mention Chris a few times by name, but only in service of not saying "my partner" repeatedly.

There won't be anything graphic, but if you want support after reading, resources will be at the bottom of the page.

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Domestic Violence.

There are a number of definitions for domestic violence. Some that conflate it with abuse or domestic abuse, some that use it as an umbrella term, some that give it a very specific/limited definition. As with most definitions, it's going to be used differently in different places, so I'm not going to point you to a specific one. And I'll probably use "violence" and "abuse" interchangeably here.

There's a bit of the definition that the organisation Refuge (see more below) gives that I think is always pretty key to these terms. And that is, "Anyone forced to alter their behaviour because of their partner's reaction is being abused."

As with any definition, there are a lot of ways to stretch and play with words within it; ways to lighten the weight of the most load-bearing words; ways to slightly change words in your head when you take your eyes off the page or step away from a conversation.

It's especially easy to do that when fear is involved. And it's tricky, isn't it, because we're all afraid to some degree. Being alone is scary and being in a relationship is scary, and truly loving someone can be terrifying at times. I might get proven wrong on this, but I think if you love someone for long enough, you're going to be terrified. Maybe not of them. Maybe because you hear there is a car wreck and they are late home from work. Maybe because they're very depressed or anxious or physically ill and you can't help them. Maybe because you have to leave, temporarily or permanently, and you worry about what will happen to them, or what they will do to themself, when you're gone..

For a long time, I thought that so long as I consented to something, it couldn't be abuse. That's a tricky needle to thread, made much trickier if you are with someone who doesn't believe in consent. Even after I was removed from my flat, I didn't consider it abuse - and I told my domestic violence caseworker as much. I recognised everything that happened. I wasn't in denial about what had occurred. I just trusted it wouldn't be that extreme again. Not if I handled it. Not if I set the right boundaries.

And then eventually, I realised, I was even told directly, that this was always waiting. Whenever I would have asked for respect and justice, it would have been waiting. There were always going to be reasons or triggers that my partner loved much more than me, could immediately open a gate somewhere inside and suddenly, absolutely hate me, in order to protect those bits of his life/himself.

And it wasn't, I don't think, that I was in denial about anything before. Like finding a new word for my identity, like coming out, I just suddenly had language that shed light on the last six years. That helped me connect things I had not connected or I'd taken complete responsibility for, even if I was not the one who had done them.

And when I realised that, I wasn't scared of being alone anymore. Or of what my partner was going to do to me or himself.

- - -

Again, much like coming out, there really isn't one kind of "reporting." I think I keep likening domestic violence to coming out not, of course, because I believe queerness to be inherently violent in any cruel or neglectful kind of way. But because the acts of coming out, of being queer openly, are always about resisting violence that erases, that is cruel, that is neglectful. We are in a relationship with society in which we are forced to change our behaviour, hide ourselves, avoid or self-shame our instincts, end or prevent caring/loving relationships with others, because of society's reactions. It is an abusive relationship with an entire culture; to an extent, an entire world.

That's a big simplification but, I think, a useful comparison. I'm sure there are few skilled academics who's written pages on this much more eloquently than I have.

Anyway. I told some friends what happened when the police took me away. I was so tired, I told the police. I told the hospital staff. I texted a couple friends from a hotel, before I went to the hospital.

I notice, as I write these words, that I feel, in the back of my head, Chris in the study or the bedroom. Before it is a fully-formed, conscious thought, I wonder when he will read this, where I will be in the house when he does, what I need to prepare for.

But, he is not here and he is dead. Well, right now, some of him is in a small wooden box in the hallway. But, y'know. It's not him.

And...that's going to take a while to go away. When I came back from hospital there was a conversation where he kept insisting I tell him what I had said. One of the few friends I had talked to had stepped away from a conversation with him about working together. I insisted I hadn't said anything about abuse. I repeated myself, "I just told them what happened. I promise. I just told them what happened. I told them what I did, too. I just told them everything. They said it was abuse. I didn't say abuse."

And it was really important I identified it as abuse. It took the patience of my friends. It took having to spend two extra days in hospital to wait for their DV team to talk with me. And it took...I mean it was sinking in through the month after I left hospital. And the final piece was being completely separated for two weeks, and the lightness and joy I hadn't felt in six years.

It was identifying it that lead me to go back to my DV advocate and have my case reopened. And to start to be more honest about details when talking with friends. 

But it wasn't the name that made it abuse or not. As I say in the video, I was hurt and silenced again and again. I knew that felt wrong. And no one deserves that.

There's this question of whether, as Chris occasionally said (and then took back), I was abusing him. I don't know. My fear of that question lead me to sort of freeze my criticism of things he did. I mostly froze that until I felt I had searched every corner, tried to see everything from his perspective, to be sure I was 100% innocent. 

And that was such an illogical and impossible ask of myself. And also it doesn't matter. Of course I wasn't innocent. And of course I would never be able to tell even if I was. And it didn't matter - what mattered was taking care of myself. In the end, I had to do that and Chris had to take of himself. Anything else is unsustainable.

And does that hurt? Yeah, it fucking hurt like nothing else. And loving someone is showing up knowing that one day doing the right thing for both of you might hurt beyond words.

The practicalities of dealing with everything are both pretty boring and private. The one thing I'll say is how important it was to have both a consistent professional advocate and a sort of personal support network formed by a few friends. They reminded me what unconditional care looks like. They were furious for me when I'd learned to be sorry instead of angry. They reminded me to take care of myself.

- - -

In the video, I talk about recovery. I know what that word means in mental health and addiction work, in physical recoveries. I've done it before, been in the process of recovering from abuse, but never thought to call it that.

Recovery begins way before you call it abuse, or can do. It can also pop up in relationships or interactions months or years later.

I know what to say with my work hat on. I know what kinds of resources and therapy to recommend, what kinds of check-ins and support structures to help someone put in place.

I don't know what I did before, personally. I don't know that it worked all that well.

But I've been dancing a lot. I don't know how to dance. I've been told I'm not bad at it in a show, like, when given choreography, but I have no clue how to dance. So. I've been dancing. "Of course," my therapist said, "being free isn't just in the mind. When was the last time you had space where every part of you was free?"

So, that. I've been writing a lot. I've been reading books out loud to Foley, my deaf rabbit, because I want to/need to hear my voice, to know what it sounds like.

I've been watching new kinds of porn. I don't know why that is yet, exactly. Something about coming into a new relationship with what -my- sexuality is, what it is -now-, what it is when it isn't only focused on trying to get one person off.

I sit with the worry and the flashbacks. Chastise myself less for feeling them because it's done - the person is gone (which isn't the same as the harm being gone or in unreal). Hold on to each moment of joy or freedom I feel. Enjoy and remember each moment I do something simply out of care or love, and don't worry in the slightest about how someone will react. Sometimes these moments will be a bit extreme, off the mark. And that's fine. That's good, its crucial, actually. I'll find a balance. I am a cartographer. I am not conquering or observing, but I am mapping new lands.

- - -


Note: LGBTQ+ relationships are known to have higher levels of unreported domestic violence incidents, due to fears of homophobic behaviour/abuse from doctors, police, and even support organisations. Also, as we know, abuse is cyclical, and LGBTQ+ children are far more likely to have been abused by peers and/or classmates.

Not much research has yet been done into the levels of abuse specifically present amongst the trans community. Fortunately, this is changing. What we know so far is that these levels seem to be far higher than levels of abuse experienced by our cis queer peers (try saying that three times fast). One reason might be internalised transphobia and expectations/acceptance of abuse from cis partners simply because one is trans. Another might be the way that an abusive partner can threaten to out a trans person and, in the UK, still has to sign on on their partner's official gender change if the two are married.

I spent much of my time in Ponyboy Curtis and, eventually, with Chris trying to explain that I believed the abuse I was enduring would not occur (or at least not in the same way) to a cisgender person. I only had cis people to tell, and none of them chose to listen.

If you would like to learn more about risk factors and patterns of domestic violence experienced by trans people, this joint report by Scottish Trans Alliance and the LGBT Domestic Abuse Project is a great place to start: report.

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Refuge is a brilliant domestic violence charity, and they can be reached 24/7 for free on 08082000247

Galop is a fantastic organisation that supports any LGBTQ+ person experiencing violence from a partner, family members or friends, at work or school, or anywhere else. They can be reached on 0800 999 5428 10am - 5pm Monday, Tuesday, and Friday and 10am - 8pm Wednesday and Thursday

Solace works with women (I believe this includes anyone who identifies as a woman or AFAB, but check with them if you contact them). They provide counselling services, accommodation, and a number of support options and wellbeing services. They work with adults and young people 4 - 18.

The three above websites all have emergency "exit site" buttons that will immediately take you to an innocuous site, such as the BBC front page or a search for "healthy recipes," etc.

The Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123 for free, for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or planning suicide - or to talk about anything else that might be difficult for you at the moment. You do not have to feel suicidal to call.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Ghost Static.3.Howl

Ghost Static.3.Howl
- -  -

A brief note to say two things:

1. I've been doing a lot of reflective writing. A fair chunk of it, I just keep for myself. Some of it, I write to possibly be shared. I share some of it in case a few folks might find parts of my grief process around Chris and what happened relatable/resonating/maybe even comforting. There won't be important news in here. And I don't expect any friends or anyone to read it. It's just in case you want to and it might be nice to see someone saying some grief things out loud.

2. I've been processing so much of all of this through music. In this post, I've included little footnotes to songs I've been listening to that really connect with some of the feelings I'm writing about in that moment (and throughout the piece). 

I know Chris did a lot of poeticising in his writing, in his abuse, in describing his abuse, and in his death. I'm not trying to romanticise something that of course is beyond summary in words. Just wanted to offer some songs I've found poignant & helpful. And then let you know what bits they sit with for me. As always, take/read/listen to what bits you'd like to; ignore the rest. X
- - -
Draft Written Saturday 17 July 2021

Last night and tonight, I went out to the steps of the patio of my back garden(1). Just like me, Foley, had been moping a bit during the week and took a bit of convincing. But he eventually joined me. He rubbed his chin all over all his favourite spots on the patio first, then on each of his favourite plants. Then he went back and ate some each of the plants he had marked. That's how rabbits tell other small mammals something is theirs. They have small scent glands under their chins, which they rub on the things they love.

It was the first time I'd gone out to relax this summer. That was something Chris and I would always do with Foley. (2) Go onto the porch with a glass of something and watch the sun set, watch Foley frolic, and talk and hold hands in the enormity of everything.

I took my notebook out with me and attempted to sketch some scenes from one of my favourite podcasts (more of a sort of closed radio story told in instalments). It's called Dreamboy It has dreams and a gay bar and saving an animal that may or may not still be alive. And some erotic content - fair warning. So, not a surprise choice if you know me. Anyway, after going outside and drawing for a while, for the first time in a week last night, I had ok dreams. Not painful and horrifying and repulsive. Just sort of either ok or baseline sad/stressful. And I woke up and felt ok.

So I went out tonight again. This time, I drew the garden. I don't love where I live. (3) I don't like why Chris chose it and I don't like why he lied about why he chose it and I really hate how far it is from everything. But I love the view from the garden; the same view I have from my queercave/study window and my bedroom door out to the garden.

The moon has been gorgeously bright. Even though it's not even quite a half-moon. It has risen through the sky, even before the sun is down, with that searing kind of glare that makes you think it's going to hit a magnifying lens somewhere and set everything on fire. (4) And it doesn't. Of course. But when the edges are that clear and it glows so brightly, you forget that you can't see the stars or that it's going to be harder to go to sleep. Or I do, at least. I sit there, sort of transfixed and sort of in love. Sort of wanting to land on it one day. Sort of wanting to never get any closer, so I can hold it in my imagination.

I haven't cried this hard in a fairly long time. It reminds me of when I cried as a child. I was talking to a good friend who visited me only two days after I'd heard Chris had died. 

Before she left, she held me for a while. Not because I was crying, just 'cause. I'm a lot bigger than her, but she invited me to curl up in her lap and be held. I think everything I got in that hug was sort of a condensed package of all the things I have needed to keep breathing and growing each day. Things from her, but also from a lot of friends.

There is a bit of a Doctor Who episode that has always stuck with me. It's from "The Beast Below," with Matt Smith and Karen Gillian. It's a bit cliche, maybe. But, it goes:

Amy: One little girl crying. So?

Doctor: Crying silently. I mean, children cry 'cause they want attention, 'cause they're hurt, or when they're afraid. But when they cry silently, it's because they just can't stop.

My friend and I talked about crying and I remember saying that I think I'd only ever cried because I couldn't stop (5). I couldn't remember thinking anyone would comfort me or do anything for me when I cried.

Actually, except for one time when I walked through a park all night. Feeling desperate, I let myself into the shared house where Chris lived to be comforted by him, because I didn't know what else to do. That's a different story.

Early on, very soon after Chris died, someone told me how ok it was to just howl. And I realised that was the word for how I cry. I suppose not when I was, like, a very tiny baby, but since I can remember, I've always sort of opened my mouth and silently howled. And I can't stop for a while, sometimes twenty minutes, sometimes three or four hours.

It feels like a very integral part of what I am is an eternal howl and when I finally let it out, it takes over a bit. And my body is too small in comparison to give it an actual voice.

I'm believing that theory less and less these days. Or, at least, the idea that the howl lives constantly and permanently in me, that it grew from something immutable inside me. That I have to listen to it every nanosecond of my waking and sleeping life to have any integrity.

It was Chris seeing something of that which initially made me decide I could and should trust him. And watching him die (albeit from afar), knowing he believed that darkness was an essential part of him. And having seen the days where he lived without it... I no longer believe that's how it works. At the very least, that's not how I want to believe it works for me (6).

There is a freedom in that. There's a liberation, of course, in realising during an enforced separation that my partner was truly and deeply abusive, how much better I felt without him. There was a liberation in the threat of his choices, compulsions, addiction, and perpetually care-less outlets of abuse, etc, finally being police knowledge. My worst fear came true and then I was free of that very tiny, high-density, six-year worry in the very deep, dark back of my brain.

But there is a much, much bigger something, an unlocking of reality, that comes into play when I no longer believe I need to be in pain and furious shame forever. Perhaps it was true that Chris would only love (I still don't know if "love" is accurate) me if that was part of our bond. Maybe that was mostly in my head. But there is a freedom in escape.

A lot of other feelings, of course. Especially if your home burns down behind you (7). And part of you will may occasionally glance over your shoulder towards where the ashes are. Would be. But there is always some wild ecstasy in the escape.

Chris wrote a letter to be read after he died by a few close friends. (8) He didn't include me in that list. Someone offered to send it to me (with an appropriate warning), and I read it. It was very long, which wouldn't surprise anyone who was familiar with him or his work. I don't know if I'll ever read it a second time. But fairly early in the letter, he wrote, "In the very first part of our relationship, I handed my then-boyfriend a loaded gun. Now, nearly six years on, for reasons known only to him (but let me assure you they are not the reasons he has apparently stated), he has pulled the trigger."

He told me incredibly dark things about himself. Very early on. I thought he'd done that with everyone - past partners, close friends. I'd seen it in his work. I hadn't thought it was a secret. I told him how much pain I was in, all the time. I told him about dark things that happened to me. I told him there were a couple people whose death would bring me peace.

(9) Somewhere around 6 hours into the 13 hours the police spent interviewing him, the lead detective called me to discuss the last few months of our home life. My understanding was basically that Chris had said the same thing to them - that he'd said that I always knew he'd had indecent content and that I, for some secret, personal reason, picked that moment to turn him in.

The thing about harm or abuse, I think, is that everyone has a limit. (10) And you can push someone way past their limit, but the second you cross that line, everyone involved starts to feel the effects.

Whether I was made more brave out of anger, whether I made the right or wrong choice about which wedding vows to uphold, and the whole, huge, tangled mess of gnarled roots that is everything Chris did for the last 25 years and my own faults, which got tangled in with his (along with so many wonderful moments) the last six years (11)... I don't know all the reasons that lead up to what happened. Chris didn't either, of course. The sequence of events is accurate. That's the story I can tell. 

The thing I know is that something always gives. Usually at the weakest point (12).

When I went out to draw the moon and imaginary places and aeroplanes underwater and streetlamps in cities the last two nights, that was a howl. Dancing in the middle of my study at 1 in the morning is a howl. Sexting a stranger from a queer dating app. Uncertain, rejoicing, still wild, a howl. Chaotic freedom and celebration and the things we love and are too searingly bright and if we ever put wolves on the moon, y'know, neither one would come out of it in great shape.

Foley (13) hasn't done this since Chris was arrested, but if thinks he's in danger, he thumps. He can't talk or scream, but he just starts thumping with his huge back foot. It's loud. He can't hear it. But he can feel it.

There's never danger. He's inside and there are no animals - it's just me and him. I sit with him. He keeps thumping. I give him some carrot. If that doesn't work, I cradle him in my arms, swaddling him. And eventually he resets. He lays on my chest and kisses my chin, rubs his chin on mine. On the off chance a sneaky rabbit sniffs me out in the middle of the night and tries to steal me away. The deep, loud, fearful, howling instinct isn't gone. But he knows the world didn't end.
- - -

1. Lemon Boy, Cavetown 
    (Apple MusicBandcamp)
2. Counting, Stick and Poke
3. Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
    (Apple Music)
4. To Be A Ghost, Jeff Rosenstock
5. The Wrong Train, Ghost Mice
6. Brave As A Noun & Survival Song, AJJ
    (Apple Music, Brave As A Noun, Survival Song . Bandcamp)
6.b.Brave As A Noun, (beautiful, imo) cover by Local News Legend
7. House on Fire, Ghost Mice
    (Apple Music)
8. Darkest Heart, AJJ
9. I'm Not A Good Person/We Don't Get Tired, We Get Even, Pat the Bunny
    (Apple Music: I'm Not A Good Person, We Don't Get... . Bandcamp)
10. Doth Make Cowards, Local News Legend
11. Archive, Mal Blum
12. Beachboy, McCafferty
13. E for Estranged, Owen Pallett

"But promise me you'll always try. 'Cause I don't wanna hate you. And I don't wanna hate me. And I don't want to have to hate everything anymore."
-From Here to Utopia, by Ramshackle Glory or  Pat the Bunny

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Some bad drawings:

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