Monday, November 28, 2016

Your Kink is Not My Kink, and I Am Not Okay

It probably shouldn't surprise any of my regular readers, and probably won't surprise the family members that occasionally troll this blog in an attempt to decipher some sort of theory of my trauma that explains how we got here without assuming responsibility for their role in it, but I'm into kinky shit. Specifically, I'm what they call a, what is it the kids are saying now?

A demiromantic, pansexual masochist trans slut. Or as I like to think of it, an Alpha Pain Slut. And I am a system, or in common terms, a multiple/plural/DID/whathaveyou. This is important because it complicates things.

Masochism and Submission


Now, the kink community has a lot of terms they like to throw around to describe and codify different kinks, and I'm generally OK with that because it lets you know what you are getting, but a lot of them either misunderstand what I am or they don't get that there are just some things I can't do or that I can't do the way they do them. As a result, there are always a few misunderstandings I have in a given group of a certain size, no matter who runs it.

The first one is masochist. To many, this means someone who enjoys pain. To people outside the kink community, it is often misunderstood to mean someone who always enjoys pain, even emotional pain, and who can't help themselves. Inside the kink community, it is understood that masochism is a trait that allows you to displace pain and that the reaction to the pain brings a mental clarity and release that allows you to feel pleasure from the pain. It is written about largely as a transformative experience, alongside submission, where you trust another person to help you find your release.

I do both. Specifically, I always do the first one, but if I can safely relax and actually drift into a place where I can trust a dominant to run me, I also gain the second. I have rarely been there, though, and part of the reason is because of the fact that I am a system. You see, on the interior, only one of us is a true masochist, and when she is asleep, the "always on" isn't always on. And, when she is front, meaning running the show, we have a history of having trouble speaking (until recently her vocabulary was 5 words, and before 2014 it didn't exist).

The result is that I have never actually submitted to anyone outside myself. I've subbed. I'm a sub slut. I can give myself over to damn near any top I want and let them work me over, but that's because I'm not submitting to them. I'm submitting to Lynn or to Clay, either of whom (or both of whom) will step in and lay waste to situations that go bad when Athena is not fit to decide for herself about consensual pain vs. nonconsensual pain. And I need that, because it's easy to lose myself in the momentary sensations of nonconsensual pain and to blame myself for what happens after when the psychological trauma hits. More about that in a different post.

So the up and down here is that I'm not looking for someone to get me off, in a really visceral way, when I turn myself over to a top/dom, what I'm looking for is for someone else to hit a cognitive and emotional reset button that is necessary for me to make rational decisions, because if we don't keep Athena regulated, then she starts making choices that hurt specifically to chase the urge. And she is synesthetic, so emotional hurt and verbal degradation works.

This is the part of the narrative where usually someone would go into how much they like verbal degradation, but the fact is that it is so much a part of the reason I have dissociation and flashbacks that I don't. If someone wants to call me a slut or treat me like a whore, I can find empowerment in those words, but actual degradation, calling me worthless and the like, it is too close. I can't feel the pain through the intrusion of remembered pain from other times and places, so I usually don't sign off on it. I like to get hurt, but I derive worth from that, especially because I have seen the looks of envy from other subs when I hold my hand over a candle and will myself not to move it until I have climaxed. I don't want to be degraded. I want to be celebrated.

Getting back on track, when I'm looking for someone to truly dominate me, I'm looking for someone who can essentially be trusted to take over for Clay. At the point where I can do that, I can afford to let Athena front on her own without worrying about her safety, and I wish I could describe to people who are singular psyches exactly what kind of release/rest/recovery it would allow us if both of the two people who must remain conscious for us to be safe in public were allowed to really rest. That hasn't happened yet, though, and a big part of the reason is because obedience is inherently unsafe, and Clay doesn't want to let us be unsafe.

Bondage and Discipline

The other side of my kink interface comes into play when you try to understand why obedience is problematic for us. You see, my past involves a lot of things that to this day, my relatives sit around and justify out loud to themselves as "just fine" and "discipline" and "part of rearing kids" that nonetheless resulted in my having pretty constant flashback episodes through most of my adult life, and that are also largely responsible for the fact that there is a system here to begin with. You see, Athena is six months younger than the body, and she is the oldest one of us that we know. Even Michael didn't really come into being until after I had a very bad flu as a toddler.

If there was any kind of sense of us before we were six months old, it's lost in the mist. As is, what we have from before age 3 is quite fragmentary even if there is a lot of memory there, because the narrative sections are almost all remembered voices and the visuals are pretty much short clips and stills. Imagine having about seventy percent of the audio on a series of vine videos extracted from a movie (and making up only about 30 percent of the movie) and you can understand how we experienced early thinking from Athena and Michael. It's not enough to know a lot for certain, but it's enough to know who was there and who was not.

What you need to understand about our system is that we do subscribe to the fragments-and-trauma model of being a system, and we do ID as having Dissociative Identity Disorder. We don't necessarily think the two are the same, but since we are capable of having someone in front and not knowing who it is and having to watch them do things we can't control while remaining ignorant of the fact that they need to communicate with the rest of them, we view that as the DID. And we also happen to have at least 2 system members caused by trauma directly, as well as 1 that might be or might be said to be a voluntary genesis and another one that was definitely a voluntary genesis.

Anyway, the reason this is important is because in addition to being a true masochist, Athena is also what I describe as a Perfect Victim. That is to say that she is compliance trained and fully convinced that there is no one who will assist her because when she tries to resist it will be made out to be that she is the one causing trouble and whatever attention she draws will stack the odds against her. Never mind that isn't true, there's a reason why Clay can't let her out alone. I can know it's true without knowing it's true when I am her. That's the nature of the system I live with.

It's not that she doesn't want to do things and she does them anyway. It's that she can't tell if she wants to do them or not. The feeling of having her boundaries overridden and being hurt triggers pleasure immediately, not after some kind of processing or establishment of the space. She can not tell if she is consenting or not because her default mode is to always consent to everything because it reduces the chances of severe damage. And her pleasure from all forms of pain is deeply sexual, even if it is emotional or psychological pain.

I'm not making claims here. I'm just laying out the pieces of the narrative and letting patterns emerge. We have five I's. The oldest one was formed when we were an infant, and she becomes aroused by being used, even if it hurts. She also can't tell the difference between liking something and hating it because it all gives her the same feedback. And she didn't learn to talk until we were in our thirties.

I won't claim anything I can't remember. I just wanted to put the whole thing in one place and let you look at it.

The result of Athena's behavior is Michael in crisis mode, which eventually became Clay. Michael still exists, and Michael's crisis mode is still as dangerous as it ever was, because they has a tendency to decide they will "win" no matter what happens and to pursue escalation until there is no resistance. Clay is the less volatile version of that drive for dominance. In the years between Clay and Michael's genesis, we would constantly flail and fail to find a way to defend ourselves against even the most direct physical onslaught, such as biting from others, until we just... got calm... and found a hammer. Or a two by four.

When Clay came into being it was because we recognized the need to find a self that could feel that drive without escalating unless it was prudent, and who could fulfill some of the escalating demands that being designated as male was beginning to put on us. Clay's entire existence was designed to protect and manage, to be the one who kept our boundaries and to take advantage of whatever means was necessary to keep us safe. Sometimes, that made him indulge in toxic use of privileges. Mostly, it just made him want to blend in to the background, at least, after a point. There was a leadership phase that comes around again every so often, but while Clay is occasionally brilliant and actually so, in that he understands doing emotional work for those he leads, our system as a whole is unsuited to it, so we usually spiral out into burnout when we take it on.

The result is that Michael is essentially a brat now that they is controlled, and Clay is virtually incapable of surrendering to submission or absenting himself from consciousness, even if he does consent to let the rest of us be used by other tops. We long for the release of having someone take the kind of control Clay does and to live in it 24/7, because we live the interior dynamic 24/7. The problem is, knowing what we know about how far Athena can be pushed and living with the consequences of it, Clay is going to demand a high standard from anyone he leaves alone with Athena.

Occasionally, he leaves Lynn to watch over her and absents himself, but that is the extent of the trust so far, and it only happens in areas where we already feel comfortable about the fact that there are external monitors also watching. Even then, it is Clay reasserting himself and calling scene an overwhelming majority of the time, because if Lynn is holding Athena's head, Athena won't climax and the scene will run until it anticlimaxes.

In the cases where we have been hurt, it was Clay who reasserted and physically removed us from the situation. And when we have finally broken abusive cycles and made changes by ending relationships, it was Clay who walked us out. And it was Clay and Michael, together, who have traditionally torn apart people who would try to control us without respecting our needs, from parents to poorly trained teachers and ableist bosses.

In my entire life, there have been exactly four people that Clay values enough to step back and submit willfully for, and two of them turned on us, one died, and one was and is a very valued mentor. Only two of them are people I've had intimate relationships with as well, both the ones who crossed us. That's part of what makes his insistence on running the inside like a dynamic comes from, is the sense that the only people it is safe to follow loyally and with willing sacrifice are the ones who don't try to get that far inside us.

The Rundown

All of this is really complicated, and it makes social relationships and interpersonal boundaries a mess. As I get older, I'm getting better about making sure that Clay identifies unhealthy dynamics and steps in, but the fact is that I am learning, and slowly. I will confess that I didn't really feel a strong pull to dismantle the old toxic scripts until about six years ago, and training an autistic to process social interaction in something close enough to real time to make protection and safety possible has been an uphill battle, but it has been what we needed.

Prior to that, the fact of Athena's desire was often enough to override Clays sense of safety. And when it wasn't, obligation to others and internalized ableism made it difficult for him to identify when he was choosing to do something because he wanted to help someone and when he was forced to, because the haze of Athena's processing obscured his own choices.

Learning to take control and to subvert her movement to front when she begins to get aroused from hurt has been a long process, and it is one that is still incomplete in many ways. What does all of this mean?
  • I'm never not the master, these days. I've never not been a slave.
  • Sometimes, making Athena take the hit has been the way to stay safest, so I have spent long periods of my life essentially feeding on my own abuse.
  • There is no start or stop to scene. There's just the parts that you're invited to join and the parts you're not.
  • It's not safe to assume I've changed my mind. The person you have a contract with is not the one you get to play with, and there's a reason for that.
  • When I tell you about my Little!, you better not mistake that for my being a Little, because you could wind up putting us in a place where we give you Athena and hide. Patterns.
  • When you cross my boundaries repeatedly and play games with making demands that shift goalposts or recasting my words, eventually we are tasked with the choice between destroying our relationship with you and giving you Athena (mind you, for verbal tasks this pretty much only works if she's writing, because her entire span of real time spoken conversation in her life happened last Friday).
    • Giving you Athena doesn't mean you will be happy, it just means giving you the person who will keep answering your questions when the rest of us have lost the ability to word.
    • If you take care of her by making it possible to give you something that will satisfy you, we can emerge relatively unscathed.
    • If you can not be happy with what she gives you, or if you change the expectation and focus of what you are asking, then she will keep trying until she burns out or until Clay wakes up.
    • If you have been given Athena to minimize damage and you do enough damage to wake Clay, whatever happens next will end our relationship.
    • Athena is never able to consent, but that doesn't mean I am not able to consent. Remember and respect the dynamic at all times. Learn to see Clay when he appears.
    • There are no social relationships outside of these dynamics for me. Whatever sense of social obligation and bonding you all experience, what I feel is a deep seated need to satisfy those I love through either service or maternalistic domination, and what pleasure I get out of interaction is experienced as either the calm and centered pleasure of control or the free-falling bliss that is allowing you to take me where you need me and put me to use.
    I understand that some of this is almost claiming to be a living myth within the kink community. As a system, I'm used to that in most communities. I also understand that most of this is not How It Works. It is, by definition, not Informed Risk. It is, loudly and on purpose, defying at least 2 out of 3 for Safe, Sane, and Consensual, and sometimes it shoots the moon.

    None of that matters though. Because this is me. It's not changing just because you're uncomfortable, and it's not going to be safe for me to be safe no matter what I do. That's the nature of my life. If it wasn't, we would not exist as we are in the first place.

    Your Kink Is Not My Kink, and I Am Not Okay.

    But you can make this okay if you choose.

    The Puzzlebox Collective

    Wednesday, November 23, 2016

    The Day (#TDOR 2016)

    I am still alive, and finally they call me Athena,
    Quicksilver’s been missing but I’m finally being seen, a
    Fast, somewhat vicious femme devil accomplishing a
    Revival scene from within a dream, recovering from
    Invisibility till other people finally see for every one of me
    They have a relationship with, there’s a dozen I killed,
    Because suicides die every day until they stop,
    And I sat ingesting Hesse and testosterone until I popped,
    And now I and going to keep singing remembrance songs
    Until I drop.

    So now I’m composing, I’m late, I’m limited but I can tell,
    I’m great and if I can get my shit back together I’ll yell,
    But until then you better be ready to hear me talking,
    Because I am done having the kid doing my blocking,
    And I am sick of planting seeds in Clay and hoping
    Ideas begin to germinate. Cyborgs can’t be everything,
    So I broke through, first I learned to sing,
    Then I learned to mouth along with Lynn,
    And now I’m in the throat and you fuckers haven’t seen
    Anything.

    You thought I was Scarlet Witchy with fingers twitching
    Through silent spells over keyboards clicking,
    But Athena is and has been bigger than verbal processing,
    So you better watch out now because the rest are watching,
    But we are finally solo fronted with the oldest member of the collective,
    And we raised her ourselves from a dissociated observation
    To a fine femme fatale ready to rip your ideologies out at the root
    And feed them to dogs, like bloodthirsty goddesses
    With brutal and erotic metaphors sometimes do.

    Today is a day of remembrance, a day my mind is occupied with violence,
    And even if it takes me the rest of the week to verbalize my mind,
    You know I will be on top of it, getting ready to speak truth,
    I know the ones who will suffer most each year are women of color,
    But you remember every time you hear about them,
    The times in the dark and the names that still spark
    Memories of pain for people overcame by the same
    Impulses that govern my razorblade past
    And kept my words contained in fingertips waving
    Manically over every surface, tapping keys like strings,
    Like desks are frets, like tabletops make drum pops,
    Hearing a bit of the pain of the missing in the rhythm of everything,
    It’s hard not to feel like you’re in the heart of the conflict,
    But it’s time to resist it and realize that the conflict in your heart
    Is the heart of the situation that keeps you fixated,
    And then when that truth sets in you’ll be ready to go avenging,
    And it doesn’t take having a voice to do it,
    But if you begin, you will never know what develops.

    So now you got to deal with the fact that this is what is,
    I have finally embodied the voice box,
    I’ve started to front without Lynn,
    So if you think you knew a Slytherin quick to judgment,
    You haven’t even begun to realize what processing is,
    I am taking the time to spit this shit after taking the time to type it,
    On a day when I did forty-five hundred words in two hours,
    A rest day after doing nine thousand in six.
    This is when you realize that you didn’t realize what a hyperlexic is,
    Because you’ve been reading prolific shit when I couldn’t be speaking,
    And now that I can speak without squeaking, the fact that this isn’t clicking
    Is making you realize that my graphic actions were never exactly
    What a hyperactive voice box is, but fuck it I am going to be coming
    In every channel I can make symbols in, coloring till you shut your eyelids,
    Then sticking my tongue in through your eardrums to fuck up
    Your complacency with another reminder
    That another year passed and we are still adding our dead.
    This year I am not even going to be naming them,
    Worldwide we know of over two hundred,
    And thanks to an epidemic of suicide,
    The U.S. has that number still running,
    But wait we didn’t add that to the count today,
    So our actual grief is still outnumbered.

    So if you want to know what has me ranting,
    I’ll take you back to the woods again,
    Let you get lost until you find it…

    My voice has been a long time coming,
    And I have been talking at our face through notebooks
    For decades, wishing I could find ways
    To break to the surface and take us away
    From the places that hurt us, that Clay couldn’t go
    Because he could only survive what’s in front of him.
    Quicksilver, I will miss you, and even though you aren’t gone,
    You’re still dead, and your phantom self can transmogrify,
    But the love we shared will never be reissued,
    It was a limited edition you garage saled out of existence
    So I could have room to bloom.
    I’ll never forget you did that when you pop up again,
    And I don’t expect you realize what I appreciate,
    But in this system remembrance means treating you like a veteran,
    Embracing that your uncontrolled hell
    Is the price you paid to make us well,
    And never expecting you to step into a crisis again.
    Now that I’m speaking, it’s time for me to step into the line of fire for the rest of you,
    You who managed to keep me from beating me into nonexistence
    By coming into existence as my trauma broke pieces off me
    That you could turn to you.

    So let me wind down this eulogy and send
    Babe Ruthless through to bend your expectations
    Of the resolution of this introspective remembrance.
    I promised you a melody, so while you keep your candle lit,
    Let me try to sing like everything in my head has finally
    Fallen into line and become a single repetition of the drum
    You can loop, and then you too will feel the rhythm that embodiment brings,
    It isn’t medical, but the pills help too,
    And you do need to move other people to dance with you too,
    But there is nothing to save you until you accept the burden as you do,
    And while you might fall, there are those of us fighting to catch you.

    Solidarity doesn’t mean shit without action,
    And being disabled and barely managing,
    All I can do is draw fire off you, but that means
    Getting big enough that I can hold a space too,
    It means more than avenging,
    It means I have to stop bigots from parking,
    I have to keep the world from darkening,
    I have to say no you move to your attackers,
    I have to get my resources out, start Tony Starking,
    Start putting firepower down where conflicts start,
    This isn’t the time for militant trans theories,
    This is the time when balaclava wearing antifas
    Tuck down their bile and present as faceless,
    No matter how big the struggle to present authentically
    Rears its head, you can go boldly in daylight,
    At night you hide your head
    Because we know how this goes
    And someone is going to wind up dead,
    And we can keep holding remembrance vigils,
    Or we can arm ourselves,
    Turn our flags red,
    Go faceless
    And really ensure

    Never again.

    Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon

    If you enjoyed this poem and you want to help The Puzzlebox Collective members to produce more poetry, stories, and blogs, consider contributing to our Patreon.

    Monday, November 14, 2016

    On Walking Away...

    This last week has seen a number of us walk away from people in our communities, and in some cases from whole communities. The election seems like it was the instigating factor, but in reality, for those of us who did the walking it was just a final straw, the flushing of a last chance we had been tenuously holding out to people who hurt us. It's not surprising so many of us chose to walk out. What is surprising is that when I look around, the people who have the most guilt and recrimination are the ones who also have the best case for opting out, and the people who realistically enabled the hate that has just burst across the ballot box like a wave seem to have no trouble with their own decisions to self-isolate.

    That's not how this gets to work. Trust me, I'm an expert in walking out. My current relationships with blood relatives happen entirely over text, and everyone who has known me longer than five years is just an acquaintance or a long-distance friend at this point, with the exception of the roommate who ended our romantic relationship six months ago. This is what happens when you are an adult with a chronic pain condition. And when you have a blatant and impossible to ignore neurodivergence (or several). And when you start transition.

    Sit down. You are about to get a master class in alone vs. loneliness.

    Regarding the people who should stay and fight...

    I'm not going to be wasting a lot of space talking about why it is your responsibility to let marginalized folk slink off to focus on survival if you are the sort who can comfortably ask why we are freaking the hell out right now. Chances are, if you're that person then you're not reading the blog. Or, if you are, then you either think you are one of us or you have some other rationalization in hand for this critique. I'm not particularly concerned with you either way, though, because the fact is that the people who are going to fight are fighting and the ones who are not never were. The people who stay and fight are already staying and fighting. If they can convert you, great, but I personally am not wasting my time on it. I'm trying to help people survive.

    On social media vs. IRL isolation

    As an autistic system in the middle of transition, I only have so many social spoons. Part of the reason why my social media life is becoming so intolerant of those that hate me is because I can't escape it in the real world. I happen to be working on expanding my real-world involvement, so I need to step back my online footprint if I am going to safely fight the fights that matter. I used a similar reason for why I was not going to keep working on a family that didn't make itself safe and welcoming to me for three and a half decades. Whether this is your reason for walking away from certain relationships or you have others, the fact is that isolation is bad for you, but social media isolation might just be the tool you need to be able to cope with the rest of things.

    Imposter syndrome

    One of the things that affects many people in a variety of different marginalized identities is imposter syndrome. Depending on your exact circumstances, it could manifest in a variety of ways, but for those of us with neurodivergences, one of the biggest obstacles is overcoming the urge to question our own competence. For transgender neurodivergent individuals, this can be especially problematic, because the idea that our way of being is a mental illness compounds the already-gigantic task of coming to terms with things that society actually does label mental illnesses, and with deconstructing the pathology-based beliefs that cause us to question ourselves.

    Whether you are neurodivergent, transgender, or you face other axes of marginalization, staying safe and moving forward under a regime that is hostile to your way of living means seeking affirmation and validation. Whether that comes through your own community, through intercommunity outreach, or through solace and the policing of your own personal boundaries is up to you. No matter what, though, you need to make sure that when you question yourself, it is from within the safe and bounded confines of a space you trust. When the world wants to destroy you, figuring out whether you were wronged or whether you have made a mistake requires laboratory-style controls. Otherwise, you may never isolate the variable.

    Rest and Regeneration

    Chances are, when you walk away from a relationship, you have goals in mind for your future. It doesn't matter if you are walking out on a professional dynamic that no longer works for you, on a romantic or nesting relationship that has gone south, or on the people who should have been your core support network. It will take you time to get yourself right again, and to understand how to begin to relate to people who don't have ties to those parts of your life you have moved on from. You need to let yourself hope and plan during these times, but you also need to regroup and to regain your strength. If you just had to walk out on people who played a major role in your day-to-day for a few years, it could take some time before you are ready to move into the next project in a serious way.

    When you are trying to find the balance between activity and self-care, it's important to know how to tell when you are giving yourself signals that say rest. For those of us that are regularly dissociating or who experience alexithymia on a regular basis, looking for objective behavioral markers can help:
    • Reduced attention span
    • Difficulty with language, especially language that is normally non-problematic
    • Indecisiveness/Executive function problems
    • Cognitive dissonance (think when your brain breaks, but without the sensory feedback)
    • Heightened sensitivity to sensory input
    • Reactive emotional outbursts
    All of these are signs that you need to rest before getting organized around a new project, and if you ignore them, you will wind up in a place where you are unable to complete it and more impaired than you were to begin with. How do I know this? Ask me about my blog network....

    Preserving the integrity of reality

    The mind is a terrible place to wait. Angel Haze said that, and they were dead on with the assertion. When you are working on making yourself free of your problematic relationships, you need to be able to count on yourself to know what is real and to honor your reactions to those real events. This is complicated, though, by the fact that the process of time and retelling has been shown to shape memory in a variety of unpredictable ways. As a result, people are not only prone to reality alteration at the hands of others, they are also prone to causing it themselves.

    When you are intentionally misled about what is real and taught to mistrust your own perceptions, that is called gaslighting, after the name of a play about a husband who tries to make his wife believe she is insane by changing the light levels and other environmental factors in their home while lying about it to confuse his wife's perceptions. It is common for disabled and neurodivergent people to do this to themselves, especially when they have heard a lifetime of gaslighting tactics from other people that they then begin to play over and over to themselves. Ideas like the one that we can simply choose to do more work are not only damaging mentally, but they can have physical consequences too.

    Similarly, gaslighting LGBTQIA individuals can cause many of us to lose track of our real emotions and desires by mistaking bodily and mental cues for other causes, including symptoms of larger health problems. In extreme cases, health problems can manifest and grow unchecked when this happens because people who believe their bodies are lying about their desires and needs tend to also have a bad habit of ignoring pain and other signs that they are in distress. I once tried to talk myself out of a fibromyalgia flare by convincing myself that the pain medication I was on was causing the cognitive problems and going off it. That was a bad week.

    If your sense of reality is particularly prone to attack by yourself or others, you will need to find ways to reset your trust in it. If your social networks still include people you trust enough to validate reality for you, then you will want to use one as a sounding board as you adjust yourself to new emotional reactions and new situations. Reaction assistance is something particularly common among autistic support communities, so if you are not autistic and you have no experience with them, it might be time to start making friends across communities.

    If your social networks no longer contain the kind of people you would trust to validate reality for you, then it is important to find external ways to judge whether or not the things other people are telling you are accurate. That means being able to step back from your sense of distress and being able to assess who gets what out of a situation. One important thing to keep in mind when you are attempting to assess things on your own is that abusive people tend to accuse their victims of exhibiting some of their own worst behaviors. This is important to know both because it will help you trust yourself and because it will serve to temper your knee-jerk reactions to people you may have wronged by reminding you that if you lash out and make accusations when there is a simple misunderstanding, you can also cause others to lose reality integrity, and you can become the one who gaslights as a result.

    To help avoid self-gaslighting and the gaslighting of others, look at the following factors when you are trying to reconcile reality and your immediate perceptions:
    • Who benefits and how?
    • Is the person claiming to be the victim actually in a position of power or authority that allows them to control the resolution of the situation?
    • What specific acts are they claiming did them wrong, and how? Remember, generality is used by abusive people to get you to fill in the gaps yourself.
    • Are they throwing around absolute statements ("You always do this!") or addressing specific instances of behavior?
    • How much do they know about your access needs?
    Remember, unseating your sense of the integrity of your reality is part of unseating your sense of self and putting you back into an abusive dynamic. Defend the borders of that reality hard, but do not mistake everyone who questions it for an enemy. The ones who can speak to you in specifics can help you understand when you are self-deceiving.

    You must become your own best friend

    This is a common platitude, and no doubt if you've read other self-help guides for people coming out of abusive situations, you've heard this before. It's not simple, though, and it does take reminders. Even today, I need to be reminded on a regular basis that I am not immune to making ableist demands on myself or tolerating them from others, and I work to make sure that I am taking care of myself. Practically, this manifests in a variety of ways. Some days, it means that I need to look at how people speak to me and what they expect of me and decide whether or not I should put up with it, and often the answer is no.

    On other days, the practice becomes more complicated. This is especially true when one is trying to build up strength and challenge oneself, because the motivation to reach the goal can lead to exhaustion and injury. It's also true when deciding whether or not to let new people in. The only way that you will manage to break free of this orbit and get yourself into a social group that is healthy is if you embrace the idea that you would rather be alone than with someone who makes you feel bad. It sounds simple, but many people realize this truth and continue choosing the opposite. It's how we get trapped in obligation. It's how we get trapped in closets.

    You haven't walked away yet until your priorities have shifted to put your own well-being at the top. You can be a best friend to someone by giving them everything that is left, but if you try to give them everything, you are hurting yourself and them, and you are in danger of becoming the very thing you just tried to walk away from.

    Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon