Yes, I am a huge fan of Netflix’s Stranger Things. There is a creepy little world/alternate universe in the show, the Upside Down, that’s inhabited by a monster. If you haven’t seen the show, let me do a shitty job of describing the Upside Down to you. It’s very dark, lots of floating particles, viney, pulsating and scary. One of the characters describes it as “a dimension that is a dark reflection, or echo, of our world. It is a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, with monsters. It is right next to you and you do not even see it.”
Of course James is the monster sitting beside me. I mean, please. But the Upside Down itself? Kinda reminds me of the court system. While there are so many progressive and enlightened judges, there many who are not. Waging war against a narcissistic in court? Not for the faint of heart. Add in the fact that one of the professions with the highest population of people with narcissistic personality disorder is law, judges (and lawyers and police officers) specifically? You’ve got yourself the Upside Down, albeit with less fluff floating around the air.
I’ve talked a little about going to the courthouse. First to get a temporary order of protection and then later to make that order more permanent. It’s a grim thing to face and extremely daunting. I think there is a false notion that getting one is easy. It’s actually not. (Please do not let this dissuade you from seeking an order. Most jurisdictions have you meet with an advocate at the courthouse to help you navigate the process. I urge you to trust your instincts if you feel you need protection.) You have to first meet with a case worker who reviews your situation, file paperwork, present compelling evidence, have a judge review your case and speak with the judge directly in a courtroom full of other people and attorneys seeking orders. When I obtained the temporary order, I saw three cases before mine denied.
Recently, I heard a story from a friend about someone she knew who was denied an order of protection. Why? Because of the very common Back and Forth. What is the Back and Forth? It’s when a victim returns to her abuser. Reasons for returning include feeling obligated, being pressured to return, fearing further harm if you don’t return, being financially dependent upon the abuser, confusion about whether the relationship was abusive and out of love for the abuser.
So in the instance of my friend’s acquaintance, it was out of feelings of love, as it was for me. The court looks at this and thinks, hold up. You can’t be that afraid of Mr. Asshat because you were willing to go back. Well, yes, she can be that afraid of Mr. Asshat. But she can also feel obligated, fear further abuse or she may even feel tender towards him. This is why abuse is so messy.
In my ideal Rightside Up world, the courts would be more educated on the nature of abuse. It is possible to fear someone greatly and love them. However insincere that love is on the part of the abuser, it is very real to us. It’s what keeps us in the grasp of our abuser. Love and confusion and the Back and Forth.
I went back and forth with James in quick succession about seven times. I could pour through messages, text and phone records to pin it down exactly. But I’d prefer not to and say about seven. Which, coincidentally, is the average amount of times it takes for a victim to leave their abuser. That’s a hell of a lot of Back and Forth.
I know what you are thinking right now and it’s okay. Why, why, why would you go back to someone like this? It makes no sense. Certainly you knew better than return to someone who was abusive to you in unspeakable ways. No, I did not. What I knew is that I loved a man who was as smart and charming and kind as he was cruel and humiliating and vile. And so I went back. Again and again and again. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared of him. Or that an order of protection was unnecessary. If anything, it speaks very loudly to the contrary.
I want to scream to anyone who will listen that abuse is not at all what you think it is. It’s muddy and messy and confounding. I wish with my whole heart that it wasn’t so hard for people to understand that an abused brain stops processing things as it would when not engaged in survival mode. And that the boundaries of what is love and what is abuse are blurred. In my perfect world, the courts would have an entire training manual dedicated to the Back and Forth and how it’s actually a classic sign that the person standing before them is absolutely scared and absolutely the victim of abuse.