A Survivor’s Story
I was involved with Chad Walter for eight months, from August 2010 until April 2011. I lived with him for six of those months during which time his abuse steadily escalated. At various points he threatened to kill me, harm me or my animals (threatened to “gut my cats”), broke my things, punched walls and the like. Most of his abuse manifested as emotional and psychological abuse. He used threats of violence against me and my loved ones, combined with a constant onslaught of psychological warfare to erode my self esteem, make me doubt my own perceptions, to generally increase his power and control over me. He isolated me from my friends and family by making ever-increasing demands on my time, by making threats against my friends, and by bad-mouthing me to people in my community. The physical aspect of the abuse was mostly confined to him shoving me, poking me in my chest, or pushing me against the wall. He would often posture as if he were going to hit me, or do the sort of pushing and shoving behavior that generally precedes a fist fight. He even “bro-flinched” me on a number of occasions. The physical abuse was sometimes subtle and included him randomly tripping me as a supposed joke when he was upset with me, or attacking me in a feigned playful fashion that was actually designed to let me know exactly what he was capable of should I not do what he wanted. At one point he choked me because I wouldn’t comply. Once, when I was expressing discomfort about being sick (“I wish I were dead”) Chad pulled out a gun, implying he would be glad to oblige me.
Later in the relationship, these threats of violence and instances of physical abuse were compounded by Chad making statements such as, “I don’t value human life,” “I could kill you and it wouldn’t bother me,” and “I thought about killing my own son.” That was when I started thinking that Chad was actually capable of such things, rather than saying them in an attempt to scare and intimidate me, and I got really terrified.
Like most abusers, Chad is extremely adept at manipulation. In the beginning of the relationship he was the perfect gentleman, tailoring his facade to exactly what I was looking for in a partner. He wears different masks for different people, and is very good at reading what people want to see and will best respond to. He thrives on approval and reads the power map in any situation to figure out how to best gain control, and how to most easily get what he wants. He lies fluidly and almost constantly. At times it was difficult to tell when he was being intentionally deceptive or when he had actually convinced himself of his own lies. He would constantly edit the past so he would never have to take responsibility for any of his own cruelty and to cast himself as the hero. Every conversation with Chad regarding his abuse of me (or anything at all emotional really) was maddening and could only end with Chad needing comfort and my being the villain that had let him down in some way. This includes things like my getting home fifteen minutes late and him blowing his top (threatening to kick me out of the house, calling me all manner of names, telling me he wished he could just punch me…), then somehow twisting the conversation into how he deserved better treatment and how I was a selfish bitch. He had an unbelievable sense of entitlement to all of my time and energy. He was emotionally infantile and extremely volatile. He constantly diverted the conversation in a crazy-making fashion, pushed boundaries, and deflected any discussion of his own behavior. He favored juvenile theatrics over adult conversation whenever conflict of any kind arose. Near the end he had such a knee-jerk way of denying anything I said, that it almost became comical. I could say, “The sky is blue,” and he would say, “I wouldn’t really call that blue…” just to constantly emphasize that everything I thought was wrong, and I should let him tell me what to believe instead. He also maintained a constant barrage of criticisms both small and large about everything I did.
Chad would often “set me up” so he could abuse me. He would create lose-lose situations to entrap me. I could tell when he had worked himself up all day about what a terrible bitch I was so he could find any excuse to punish me. One example of this is we had agreed to meet at certain time after I got off work. As it got to be about fifteen minutes prior to that time, I got off, looked at my phone and headed to the meeting point, about five minutes away. Chad had already sent me about five or six angry texts about how he was sitting there waiting for me. I rushed to meet him and he proceeded to scream at me about what a selfish cunt I was for the entire ride, grabbing my things from me and so on. His nine year old son was in the back seat of the car the entire time. Chad would do a similar, yet less dramatic “set up” every morning. Despite the fact that he did not work and usually didn’t have class until much later in the day, Chad would linger in the bathroom until about 15 minutes before I had to leave for work. Then when I would finally get in there, he would act annoyed at how tardy I was making him and his son, would constantly pester me, would start the car, and so on to let me know I was holding everyone up with my excessive pre-work preparations. Set ups like this happened constantly.
Often in the relationship I felt like the actress-currently-playing-the-role-of-girlfriend, meaning he was unable to see me as an actual person but merely as a two-dimensional caricature of what womanhood meant to him, an extension of himself really, that numerous other anonymous women had filled in the past. He would often scream at me about things that had absolutely nothing to do with me, most of which more accurately described himself (selfish, not the person I thought you were, untrustworthy, etc). He is the master of projection. I believe Chad has no solid core self or any ability to connect with others what so ever. He is the most self-absorbed person I have ever met. His partner merely serves as a mirror to reflect back some positive identity, and a projection screen for all the things he hates about himself. I was either a trophy or a punching bag, but never a real human being to him. So my needs, thoughts, and feelings meant nothing. My words just got lost in the howling echo-chamber of Chad’s convoluted mind. I don’t know how better to describe it, but it is completely crazy-making and somehow you get sucked down the wormhole into this hellish alternate reality.
When Chad discussed his past relationships he almost always demonized the women and acted as if he was the one who had constantly been victimized. He also intentionally prevented me from meeting any of his former partners, acting as if he was afraid that they might make a scene or even attack me. He was also obsessed with getting me to beat up a different ex, in the ultimate display of his control and abuse of women. In hindsight I believe he did these things because he did not want me to learn of his abusive nature via his former partners. Chad also likes to do an “opening his heart” routine early in the relationship by sharing his supposed innermost secrets of childhood trauma and his combat related post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s part of his general “nice guy” act. This serves as a way to make women feel like they know him really well, and feel compassion and closeness to him, even though they do not know him at all. He does this same schtick with everyone. He uses this manufactured trust to elicit personal information from others, which he will later use as emotional ammunition, or as material to manipulate them with.
Chad was very jealous of my friendships and any activities outside our relationship, particularly where I was in a leadership role. He was very threatened by my intelligence and independence. He therefore did everything possible to drive a wedge between me and my friends, and to separate me from any context in which I thrived. The first time Chad showed his abusive nature was in response to me hanging out with one of my closest female friends. Chad got drunk, I believe to avoid having to take responsibility later, while simultaneously showing me what he could do to me if he was angry. I hadn’t hung out with any of my friends for months at this point. It was the first time in quite awhile that Chad and I were apart. I went to dinner with my friend. When I got home, Chad let me know that he had been drinking. Then he flew into a rage, during which he told me that he would “smear” me, gut my cats, and all sorts of things. When I tried to call a taxi to escape, he took my cell phone from me and smashed it. When I pointed out that, for a supposed feminist Women’s Studies major, Chad was acting like a patriarchal jackass, he stated that he was glad his son had heard him “standing up for himself” by threatening me and my pets.
When my political organization had its annual retreat, Chad reluctantly allowed me to go to my own organization’s event. Even though I texted and called Chad throughout the retreat, it was still not enough. I was accused of having an affair with a female member of my organization (since Chad has cheated in relationships, this may be projection.) When I returned home from this event that had been planned months in advance, Chad flipped out. He pinned me against a wall, screamed in my face, and smashed my possessions. When I tried to leave so he could calm down, he refused to let me go.
Another one of my friends was also in my political organization. This friend became a focus of Chad’s jealousy and control issues related to my political involvement. One weekend, I had a meeting to take care of organizational business. Chad was totally pissed about that, and tried to hem me into the shortest possible allotment of time to be away from him. I ended up running half an hour over that time. Chad was furiously angry and screamed at me for hours. During this time, Chad stated that he would kill my friend if he saw him. This friend had not even been at the meeting I attended. Chad later woke me up in the middle of the night to further yell at me. Sleep deprivation was a tool Chad used frequently in his psychological torture campaign. At some point that night I texted my friend to warn him not to go a DJ event the next evening, because I thought Chad would hurt him. My friend returned my text the next day. As Chad had decided that my friend was intruding on our relationship by asking what was going on, Chad sent him a message that he would “teach […] respect” to my friend if he communicated with me. Chad bullying my friend turned into a crisis in my organization. My friend left the organization because he did not feel supported by others while Chad was threatening and bullying him; the organization did not want to stand up to Chad, because they thought this would only lead to Chad further abusing me. Chad implied that he would hurt me further if his behavior was challenged.
Chad has a history of domestic violence. His 2003 Domestic Violence Intervention Program letter shows that Chad knows fully what he is doing when he abuses women. This occurred prior to Chad’s deployment to Iraq. Chad will often admit he is “crazy” (though never taking responsibility for the actual manifestations of this in the world), but generally chalks up his coldness, constant rage & irritability, cruelty, and so on to combat post-traumatic stress disorder. Chad’s own writing shows that his patterns of abuse trace to earlier than this, however.
Chad may have also gotten smarter as to how he operates. I feel that the primary reason Chad did not get more physical with me is because he knew he would be caught. He was able to exert control through threats and emotional torment. The abuse is more deniable when there is no tell-tale black eye. Also, I would have identified the situation as abusive, and left him more quickly, if there had been more of a physical component earlier on. Chad was very calculated about when and how he would abuse me. It was not that he flew into an uncontrollable rage at all. In public he would be sweet, then instantly transform in private. He knows how to tow the line enough to not get caught by those outside the relationship, and also obfuscate his abusive behavior from the victim herself. Also, unlike Chad’s usual pattern of dating outside his social circle, he and I shared many of the same friends, so he would suffer greater repercussions for the most visible physical abuse. I do believe that had I stayed in the relationship for longer, or if we had gotten married (and he therefore felt that he owned me), his abuse would have escalated to more overt forms of violence to control me. The statement that Chad made after his DV program is entirely consistent with what I witnessed and experienced while living with him.
It is very hard to convey what being in an emotionally abusive relationship is like, but I can tell you it is definitely *not* just a bad relationship. It is a constant maddening cycle of explosions that are intended to exhaust you into submission. It is the willful attack on your very core being. It is the constant denial of your reality. It is something that a very fucked up, sadistic person does to another person.
Lastly, I would like to add that every single abuser gives the same tired story to cover their tracks. They all claim that the woman made it up to get revenge, or because she is crazy, or overly sensitive, or some such nonsense. Of course they use yet another patriarchal, demeaning narrative about how unstable and vindictive women are to suit their own ends. They often claim that they are in fact the true victim. For the record, I have never in my entire life accused a partner of being abusive to me prior to this. I have had bad relationships and messy breakups, just like everyone else. I have never identified any of these as abusive, even when exes have behaved extraordinarily badly, because they were not. I am friends with all of my exes to one degree or another. Chad can certainly make no such claim. Virtually all of his exes avoid any contact with him. I have absolutely nothing to gain from making Chad’s abuse public. I have lost “friends”, been humiliated, and have received social shunning for doing this. Unfortunately, as is often the case, as a survivor I suffered far greater repercussions for Chad’s abuse than Chad has himself. It would have been much easier to not come forward. I did it because I wanted to protect other women, and I felt like it was the right thing to do. The things I asked Chad to do were by no means unreasonable. In fact, these things would have been in his own best interest, as well as the best interest of his son and future partners.