I have been pretty quiet about the nature of my last long-term relationship before my current one. I was open about the infidelity, yes, because that was easy for others to understand; it is something most people accept as a rational reason to leave and stay gone. There was less shame in copping to a symptom than there was in openly airing the disease.
For just about eight years, I was in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship.
I have never talked about this openly, because I was afraid of how it would make me look, and of the retribution it would bring down upon me from the perpetrator of said abuse. But I now find myself in this sickening age of déjà-vu, thanks to our current president, and it felt like the right time to talk about this and hopefully get some peace.
I understand the hesitation when it comes to saying, definitively, that our president is suffering from a host of untreated mental illnesses. Ableism is real, and people in need of help should not be shamed for it. But as someone who lived with a person who refused treatment and took their issues out on me for a long time, I can say this much: Trump's entire administration is functioning like an abusive partner.
In this administration, I recognize the narcissism that keeps abusers from feeling any kind of real emotion or empathy for the one they claim to love and protect (in this case, all of us). I see the mood swings, the unchecked rage, the backtracking. I see the excuses and anger used to sidestep a sincere apology: the one act that, in their eyes, brands a narcissist/addict as Guilty and Bad and Altogether Terrible. This is the thing they fear the most--the crushing feeling of their actions catching up with them.
And then there's the gas-lighting, the outright lies that make you question your own memory and experience. Did they really say that to me yesterday? Was I really as scared as I remember? Am I overreacting?
To anyone watching the president right now and wondering any of the above: you really heard that, he really meant it, your fear is rational, and you should listen to it.
After all the work I did to extricate myself from abuse and codependency, after the years of solitude it took to relearn how to listen to and trust my own voice above someone else's, this presidency is, as the kids say, triggering. The highest office in this country is telling us not to believe what we see and what we feel. Everyone in the administration knows exactly what they are doing and shows no signs of letting up. It all feels so familiar: the disorientation, the struggling to anticipate their next move or head off an outburst before it fully crests and smashes you to bits. For eight years, I never knew which version of my partner would come home at the end of the day. I recognize this same dread now, in others' desperate tweets and Facebook posts about the president.
I am angry to be here again, based not on my own decisions but on the choice of millions of white Americans to elect a known abuser, and the cowardice of the Republican Congress that protects and enables him. And while it feels similarly hopeless, I do have one secret weapon: I've been here before.
I already know there's no use in trying to appeal to this man's empathy, because abusers don't have any. I already know it's fruitless to try to predict his next move, because abusers are impulsive in their meanness. I already know that making excuses for his behavior only serves to enable the worst of him, because abusers use your pity to trap you. And, most of all, I already know I'm not crazy, overreacting, being unfair to them, or remembering things incorrectly.
And neither are you.
While most of us can't leave this country like we would an abusive relationship, we have something I didn't have back then: someone besides ourselves who sees exactly what is going on. Millions of someones, actually. Keep talking; keep reminding one another that this is not normal. Take care of your own mental health with regular news breaks, and come back strong and ready to cover for others who need time away. Pour as much focus into the beauty of your healthy relationships as you do the dysfunctional one we have with our government right now (this is hard, but I am trying). Find a productive steam valve for your emotions: protests, social-action groups, calling your elected officials.
I was alone, but you aren't. We aren't. And we're going to do our damnedest to get out of this alive.