My personal story: autism and abuse

Christian Damine

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. The Art of Autism is posting personal stories of how people on the autism spectrum overcame bullying or abusive situations.

By Christian D. Espicha

According to the a survey by the National Autistic Society in the U.K. , half of autistic adults are abused by someone they trusted as a friend. I believe this is especially true for girls and women.

I remember how frustrated my parents, teachers and peers would become with me – coupled with the general lack of understanding of autism – a volatile, potentially explosive atmosphere was created. In retrospect I can understand that frustration. Even I can become irritated with the constant anxious requests for reassurance common to many autistics. Plus, I was a whiner; having heard some other whiners I don’t completely blame others for losing their temper with me. I actually prefer not to associate with my autistic peers for this reason.  I tend to get irritated with them and don’t want to be abusive myself.

In those days though I was the only autistic; I didn’t actually meet any others until my teens. And as for empathy, I didn’t begin to develop even a modicum of that until fairly recently. Yet I do know, nobody deserves to be abused – emotionally, physically or digitally. After what I endured I vowed to stand up for myself and any others I may be able to help so they don’t have to experience what I did. Even two years later I still have PTSD and cannot even use my real name online.

Regarding abuse – I did not recognize it when it happened to me until fairly recently when I found myself in an abusive situation with a housemate. A friend who was staying at the house with us noticed and pointed out what he considered stalking and abuse towards me. Nobody knew about my situation as my autistic aloneness guaranteed I had no social contacts to compare my experiences. Turns out this isolation is a valuable asset for the stalker who uses it as a control mechanism. Another common tool in the abusive arsenal – keeping the victim isolated and dependent. Fortunately, I was not, nor did I ever allow myself to become, financially dependent. This greatly facilitated my eventual escape. Though both I and the friend who “rescued” me became homeless for nearly a year, living in a van, on a sailboat and in motels. I even went to an abused women’s shelter. I didn’t last long there because the other women picked on me mercilessly until they managed to get me ousted.

Having always considered myself strong and incapable of being hurt, it was difficult to admit even to myself that anyone could harm me. This is typically a more male reaction, but I was raised to display more traditionally masculine responses such as not crying, and fighting back physically when kids teased me, which was fairly often. I didn’t consider myself bullied because I was a bully. Little did I know it is a common pattern for the abused to become abusers themselves.

After I got out of there, leaving suddenly as soon as the creep went to work,  I did some research; some books in particular were especially helpful:

Invisible Chains:Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship

Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women

Surviving a Stalker: Everything You Need to Know to  Keep Yourself Safe

Turns out there had been warning signs I had missed.  He was constantly taking pictures of me, and they were uniformly unflattering. When I asked him why he wanted such unattractive photos he snapped,

“Because that’s the real you.”

“No it isn’t,”  I argued, “And stop taking pictures without my permission!’

He did not stop.

Note this guy was NOT my boyfriend, just a guy who had been my chess teacher in my teens. Much older than me, I became reacquainted with him months before I moved into the apartment with him and another guy who turned out to be a multiple offender digital pornographer. Child porn. I was home alone with him when the task force busted in and trashed the place searching for evidence, finally confiscating his computer and phone, arresting him and letting me go.

The stalker was strangely unconcerned when I related what had transpired while he was at work. Turns out he knew all along that Mike was a pedophile. Great. And I couldn’t leave because I couldn’t afford to move so I was stuck.

Idiot, as I call him, would also bombard me with calls and texts throughout the day, offering trivial observations – such as a street sign in San Francisco to show me where he was, or a picture of his lunch. I could care less about his activities so I would usually delete these missives, often without even reading or looking at them. I didn’t recognize this behavior as a sign of coercive control – I had never even heard of coercive control! I didn’t feel threatened. One of the key definitions of stalking according to the law –a victim must feel threatened.  I felt only annoyance. I unfriended him on Facebook early on because I didn’t appreciate his snarky comments, always subtly denigrating and belittling me.

After Mike went to jail we needed another housemate to fill his place and this is when my friend moved in. Needless to say, Idiot became insanely jealous and started ramping up his previously subtle emotional abuse, extending it to my friend as well. His irrationality became obvious even to me who misses most emotional cues. Once I found my mail scattered in the street outside the apartment. Another time he threw a car part at us. We were sitting across the street at the beach.

Soon after the beach incident Idiot screamed at me, “I hope you kill yourself and I find you in a pool of blood!”

“Why would I do that?” I screamed back, huffing into my room and slamming the door, leaving him to his online gambling and other shady digital activities. It should have been a tip off that all his “friends” were criminals and he was evasive about past girlfriends and wife. None of my friends who had met him liked him either – another sign of an abusive person. Abusers try to isolate you from friends and others who are onto them. They don’t want you to associate with anyone who could possibly help you. He even showed up at my volunteer job and made such a pest of himself spreading rumors about me they had to let me go.

“Too much drama”, they said. I felt rejected and angry. Angry at the job for not taking my side and angry at him for hounding me.

I became increasingly isolated from my support system. And increasingly depressed. I began to pick fights with him and some of them turned physical. The police were called and I filed the first of what would be many reports over the next year.

One night I awoke to find him standing over my bed. When I demanded to know what he was doing he said he was concerned I may have hurt myself.  I shoved him out and from that time on always locked the door when I was in there. It wasn’t long before I left.

Soon after things got physical I chose to become homeless rather than to live in that apartment and the stalking began in earnest. Most of it was digital which I finally foiled by changing passwords and/or deleting accounts. But some of it was classic like the time I moved to a Buddhist monastery in New England and he employed social engineering to manipulate my sister into revealing my whereabouts, claiming it was a dire emergency and he must get in touch with me. Then, armed with the name of the monastery, he proceeded to call and harass them until they were forced to ask me to leave.

The stress and paranoia were incredible and eventually I was hospitalized for depression and anxiety.

Finally, I got him in court where I lost because the judge didn’t consider him dangerous unless he threatened me with a gun – ridiculous – but Idiot did back off after the court appearance. I also moved to a more remote area.

Here is a transcript of an online chat I had with Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network:

Me: Am seeking autistic women who feel they have been abused…

AWN: Hi, Christian. So, sadly, the abuse rates for autistic women are very, very high. The truth is that “most” autistic women have been abused, in some way, at some time. Are there resources about a particular kind of abuse (bullying, emotional, sexual abuse, etc…) that you are seeking? Do you feel like you want to talk to someone in person?

Me: Both. Will be homeless after February 23 and am having no luck with housing.

AWN: Really sorry to hear this. Wanted to check in with you…please let us know how you are doing and where you are.

ME: (Months later): Finally back on Facebook. Took the jerk to court and he ceased bothering me. Found a place to live and a place for autistic adults accepted me.

AWN: We’re so relieved to hear from you!

Me: Thank you for helping me realize I was being mistreated. Never again! I want to fight to help others in a similar situation, autistic or not. Stalker recently started cyber and phone harassment after a 3 month break but I nipped it in the bud. I now have a good support system of people and organizations who really CARE for me.

AWN: So sorry to hear about the stalker situation. It’s good to have law enforcement involved. If you can, remember to document everything – every harassing phone call or message from them – to have as evidence.

That is precisely what I did, even creating a separate folder on my hard drive just for “Stalking”.

Though I have archived that folder, I hope I never have to use it again.

***

Partly because I was teased so much as a kid, I withdrew from human contact, preferring to be alone. I also had very low self esteem but didn’t realize it as I had no peers or mentors to discuss things with. I was also very angry and didn’t know how to form healthy relationships or even what a healthy relationship was.

Fortunately, as the stalking episode was transpiring I was accepted into a wonderful program for autistic adults, Autistry Studios, and my therapist, Sara, along with the rest of the crew, really stood up and protected and educated me.  I began to realize I deserved better and was capable of forming and maintaining the healthy relationships so lacking in my previous life.

This is me with Janet Lawson and Sara from Autistry Studios on a panel about women and autism

I think for autistic people it is more challenging to both realize that they need help and then to request that. I know my bitterness and hatred for the human race made me extremely reluctant to even admit I had human feelings. Also, I was resentful of being autistic and would often even deny it to myself, winding up in situation after situation that ranged from overly stimulating,  like riding the subway during rush hour or going to the crowded, noisy mall or fair,  to downright dangerous such as walking around the ghetto at night with valuables on me.

I recently read a statement by a blind woman describing how she would “forget” she was blind and plan her day as if sighted, then she would plan again as a blind person. I find I still do that with autism, accepting invitations to events which are not realistically possible – those noisy, crowded places just referred to. The thing is, today my denial runs less deep and I can usually recognize and not get myself into the situations leading to an autistic decomposition – my term for meltdown – of which mine can be severe – crying, nonverbal, physically aggressive to self and others.  I can’t count the times I was restrained and detained by the authorities, both in jails and hospitals.  I didn’t even wear a medical alert tag, something I do now.

So, bottom line is, I am much happier, having accepted autism is nothing to be ashamed of and I CAN have good people in my life.

Copyright 2018, Christian D. Espicha

***
I am Christian Espicha, an adult woman with autism. Though diagnosed with autism as a young child, I didn’t receive appropriate services until recently when I became a client at Autistry Studios in San Rafael, CA. The reason I didn’t receive services is partly because I possess a genius IQ. At age 45, I was the oldest member to graduate from the Humboldt County Structure Firefighting Academy. I completed EMT training and worked as a firefighter/EMT in Trinity County, California.  I performed with my fellow firefighters montain resues and recoveries, assisted the Forest Service with fires in the Trinity National Forest and assisted with water rescues/recoveries on the Trinity River. I’m also a writer and an artist. See my website at www.autistryandme.wordpress.com and follow me on FB: autistryandme and Twitter @KrishtianDamian

 

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