That was what you called it.
When we would have conversations about how my anxiety takes up too much space
And how we never talk about you
So that I would feel shame and guilt
For feeling at all.
Or when you would get drunk
And say things that hurt me
But claim it was only the alcohol that made you mean.
Or when, as I crouched over on the bed crying, barely able to speak
Because of the staggering pain in my stomach
You insisted that I was fine
Preventing you from getting sleep.
Or when I would take out my colored pencils
And carefully fill in a garden of flowers and ferns
Desperately focusing on something, anything, to soothe my anxiety
And you became annoyed
Because I wasn’t paying attention to what was on the TV
Because you never really wanted me to get better.
Or the sex, which was infrequent, that you would hold over my head
As proof that I was a failure as a partner
Because I didn’t want it enough
Because my panic attacks “got in the way.”
When I tried to leave you
But you wouldn’t relinquish your grip
Telling me I was wrong, I was wrong, I was wrong
Until I believed it.
You kept me caged like a bird with clipped wings
Isolating me from my friends (if they were not yours, too)
Slowly wearing me down
Chipping away at my self-worth
Until being small felt normal.
Because you always knew
That I was stronger, smarter, and kinder
But also vulnerable.
I don’t call that love.
I call it trapped, I call it control, I call it gas lighting.
I call it crying myself to sleep
I call it anxiety that makes me sick to my stomach
I call it humiliation