One day, on Facebook, Mo posted a vague statement that some people's self care is something else entirely for her. I asked her to please write about that because so often, prescriptions for mental, emotional, and spiritual health are rigidly set by cultural norms, media, and etcetera. It's complicated, I'm sure, but we all do understand when we're living outside the lines. So, Unchaste Readers Series presents the words of one woman whose words regarding abuse and recovery from a particular type of abusive relationship have meant a great deal to a great many. 755 Words for you.
That Word is My God
By Mo Daviau
In one of the abuse survivor groups I belong to
(for now we’ll skip the longer story of why I’m in these groups)
A stranger to me writes, “Can we please STOP diagnosing people with
PERSONALITY DISORDERS? Not all mentally ill people are ABUSERS.
It’s ABLEIST to say that.”
And yes, I agree with that: not all mentally ill people are abusers.
But I will never stop calling the man who abused me
That word, “narcissist,” is my God. It’s ugly, but it’s
My savior angel.
The answer to the question, the key to getting my mind back.
Pry it out of my mouth and I’ll bite you so hard.
Much of what comes through my email box
My Facebook messages are from women who have found me,
Found my writing,
Found a word to put to this Thing That Happened
This Person Who Harmed Them
(and please note I use the word HARMED, not HURT.)
This entry in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual
This list of traits.
And if you Google it deeply enough, you’ll find Other People’s Stories.
You’ll find my story. Which is only part of the story.
But before these women who write to me find me,
they find the word.
And without the word,
I guarantee you,
They don’t find me
People ask me what exactly happened and I say,
“Google my name, find my essay ‘The Cardigan.’
It’s easier if you read that than if I try to tell you.”
‘The Cardigan’ started out as a piece for Bedpost Confessions, the sex-positive storytelling show in Austin.
It was a heavily coached piece.
I never write with training wheels, but at the time I wrote it, I was not in my right mind.
After my shifts at the bookstore where I worked,
I would slam my head on the steering wheel of my car because my brain wouldn’t function and I wanted to die.
At the time, no one who loved me would let me do anything by myself.
I wrote it and I showed it to my best friend.
I rewrote it and showed it to my therapist.
Mia, one of the Bedpost Confessions directors, edited it and coached my performance.
I read it in front of three hundred people.
My therapist came to the show,
there at the door of the green room to catch me when I fell into her arms in tears.
In November of 2014, I was someone who couldn’t do anything by herself.
In November of 2014, I found the word.
The word “narcissist” was given to me by my therapist.
She was an old-school Texas lady. Portlanders probably wouldn’t like her style: Part of my PTSD treatment was to get my nails done once a week so I’d have something pretty to look at, to remind me that I had value, and was something to be taken care of.
She was harsh with me.
She told me that he had emotionally abused me, but I didn’t believe her.
My inability to eat or sleep or muster a will to stay alive were because I was the crazy, worthless person he told me I was.
She’d look at me over her glasses and say,
“This is what narcissists do. Narcissists keep me in business. The clients I lose most often. You think an old lady trying to talk sense into someone is a match for a charismatic man who’s saying everything a woman dreams of hearing? Someone whose peddling dreams? No, they disappear on me, and go back to the narcissist.”
She insisted she wouldn’t lose me.
She didn’t lose me.
I’m still here.
That word? That word is the foam circle floaty I can hand someone when they’re drowning.
It’s a terrible word, misshapen and misused, but I have fashioned it into a bandage.
That word tells me it wasn’t my fault. Even as much as the abuser insisted it was, it wasn’t my fault.
That word is all about me. That word isn’t about you.
That word tells me why someone said he loved me could hate me for merely acting like a real human being.
That word tells me that there is no point to loving someone who can’t love you back
That word is shorthand for incapable of empathy, which was the whole problem
That word isn’t something I use lightly
That word is the only gun I’ll ever use to protect myself
I will protect myself.
MO DAVIAU is the author of the novel EVERY ANXIOUS WAVE, which was published last February by St. Martin's Press. Her nonfiction has been published in Nailed, The Toast, and The Offing. She is a graduate of Smith College and the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan where Every Anxious Wave won a Hopwood Award. A longtime resident of Austin, Texas, Mo now lives in Portland, Oregon.