You Shouldn’t Hate My Abusive Ex Either

(This summer in Vermont where I used to work for Outward Bound)
When I worked at Outward Bound, one of our 23-day courses was with all at-risk boys ages 13-15 and it was insane. Besides all the gay-bashing we had to shut down and the toxic masculinity we had to deal with and the fights I had to literally jump in between and break up, the most meaningful and beautiful yet tragic thing that happened involved this one kid, Calen, the bully, who lost his shit during solo.
He was the kid everyone was afraid of, the kid who rarely talked, the kid who clearly had serious issues but wouldn’t open up about any of them. I was even afraid of this kid on some level cuz he was strong enough to hurt me and i could see this quiet rage in his eyes and in the way he ripped out the grass around him when he was eating lunch.
He was supposed to stay in the woods isolated, like all the others, for three days with nothing to do but be quiet and reflect during their solo. And when it came time, he begged me not to leave him there and seemed really visibly upset and even faked some stomach illness to try to get me to let him sleep near us instead. But I finally pulled myself away cuz you have to let kids try to work their shit out instead of saving them all the time. And things were okay the first few hours…
Until a kid blew his emergency whistle. When I found him he said he’d heard what sounded like “someone losing his shit” far away. So I followed the direction he pointed, which was, of course, Caleb’s camp. What I found was like out of a horror movie- all the trees had their bark ripped off of them as far as the arm could reach. And there were holes dug over a foot deep dug by hands, like someone trying to claw their way to China. And then I found Calen, with his shirt off, panting, and in a daze. Almost as if he was on drugs or something. Just gone. And again, faking a stomach illness. So I left the group and I took him down the mountain so we cold get a lift from the trailhead to an urgent care.
Of course the doc found nothing wrong with him.
But on the hike back up that day, out of nowhere, and maybe because he trusted me finally, he told me his stepdad beats the shit out of his mom and it was his job to step in the way now. But out here in the woods for three weeks, he couldn’t protect her and he couldn’t even call to see if she was okay. And that’s when it all made sense to me why this kid was losing his fucking mind. He was worried sick about the only person who cared about him, who his “job” was to protect. So we let him sleep next to us the rest of solo, protected by adults who won’t hurt him and from the torture of being alone with his thoughts.
But the part that tore me up was knowing that this sweet kid who loved his mom dearly would probably end up being just like his stepdad if something dramatic didn’t happen to prevent that cycle of abuse. And that he would hate himself for being the man he hated so much but learned everything from.
My ex’s dad did the same thing to his mom. My ex tried to even kill him once when he found him beating her up. His biggest fear was that he’d become his dad and yet he couldn’t face the fact he actually had. It was too devastating for him.That is why I cannot hate my ex and why I beg of you to stop calling these men monsters. Because even though they belong in jail for what they do, at one point in time, my ex was Calen, on that mountain, alone and scared and lost and headed down that same road he wishes more than anything he would never ever step foot on. And because we fail these men as a society, on some level a lot of them have no fucking choice but become the men they fear most.
That’s why we need to stop calling this a women’s issue, folks. It’s every bit a man’s issue too.

I didn’t have time to go into all this with Kevin Allison on this week’s RISK! episode, but I hope it gives some insight into why I was so determined to humanize my abuser.
(Sorry this story is sad! Feel free to share if you want)

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Andy says:

    That Risk episode was powerful as fuck. Thank you.

    1. melaniehamlett says:

      Thanks so much for listening and reaching out!!

  2. Kevin Bohl says:

    Dear Melanie,

    This is super long. Sorry.

    Once again, I want to thank you for your compassion. I hope that the young man is able, at some point, to recognize your kindness.

    Also, I just saw your post subsequent to my comment. I owe you more thanks for that, too.

    I’m building a theater company with some partners and, as part of our season, we perform A Christmas Carol. This year, our resident writer is rethinking our production. I’ve read Scrooge in performance for years and, for obvious reasons, he’s very important to me.

    Below are the thoughts that I sent to our playwright as he composes his version. They are, in part, inspired by you and your message.

    And, in reply to your response to my message, forgiving myself has gotten a wee bit easier because of you. And I will continue to try to be a better man and help other men to be better, too.

    Like Scrooge, I will not take this moment for granted.

    Here are my thoughts on Scrooge:

    Our discussion tonight on the book and Dickens and Scrooge and how to work all of that prompted some thoughts that I wanted to share. Please feel free to use or ignore any and everything here.

    A Christmas Carol has been a part of my holiday celebrations since I was a child. I grew up having it read to me and watching all sorts of different film and animated versions.

    When I was in my twenties, I played Fred in a staged musical version. Even then, though, it was Scrooge I gravitated towards.

    In fact, throughout my whole life, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of duality. Even within my particular obsessions, duality was a theme. I loved horror movies, but werewolf movies always struck hardest – a good man plagued by a disease that turned him into a feral beast.

    Beauty and The Beast was (and is) another obsession. Well, Beast is. Again, there’s the duality of the feral, terrifying beast against the gentle prince in his soul.

    My obsession with duality, even before I truly examined it, fueled the tattoo of the laughing Buddha on one of my shoulders and a bear on the other. In fact, it wasn’t until after they were both done that I saw the duality in the ink.

    Though I’d had the pleasure of reading Scrooge with Dimitri and others before, it wasn’t until reading it for the first time after my second wife left me and I’d actually been diagnosed as bipolar that the pieces fell into place.

    Whether in the manic or in the depressive phase of the disorder, there are few upsides. And, in retrospect, after years of therapy and medication, I have gained some perspective on what my partners have had to go through.

    In all honesty, I was a monster at times. I did and said things that will haunt me forever. When in the throes of a manic phase, it was like being inside of a robot that had gone completely out of control. I could see the things I was doing and saying and had no control over it. What was worse, there was pleasure in the manic phases – in the letting go of control. There was pleasure in becoming feral.

    The day of my diagnosis was one of the best days of my life. I had a name to put on what I had dealt with my whole life and a way to deal with it. However, the scorched earth that I’d left behind me was still there. I’d done some pretty hideous things and I had to deal with that or find a way to fix them.

    Reading Scrooge that first year after my diagnosis was cathartic. I saw where he’d been in his youth, his corruption, his evil, and, most importantly, his redemption. It gave me hope. Perhaps if I lived my life, in the time remaining to me, as best as I could I could make up for the pain that I’d caused. Perhaps.

    So, maybe Dickens has written Scrooge in a way to find redemption for his own crimes. Maybe Scrooge is what Dickens hopes he can do and be. Maybe Scrooge is the hope that Dickens wants to bestow upon us broken people.

    There was a podcast that I heard this week that struck me to the core. The story, told by Melanie Hamlett, is of her experience being in an abusive relationship. What set her story apart, for me, is the compassion for her abuser, she doesn’t excuse his behavior, nor should it be excused, but she doesn’t characterize him as an irredeemable monster. In her kindness, she gives him space, should he choose to take it, room to be whole, maybe for the first time.

    Maybe Dickens had given Scrooge and, by extension, himself, room to be whole and find redemption.

    That’s what I see at the core of A Christmas Carol and why it’s so important to me. Maybe that’s what compelled Dickens, too.


    1. melaniehamlett says:

      This is great! Also, I think all humans struggle with some level of duality. I know all addicts do especially. I was a codependent (and has to even work the steps around it after all this shit). As you heard in my story (though a lot is left out) I keep going back to how my mind turned on me and lied to me and made me do and say things that went against who I am and all my values. All of this against my will even. I mean, I chased after a man who was abusing me! Why?! That’s insane! Even when I wanted out more than anything, part of me desperately did not! Here I was, a feminist and a passionate warrior for social justice, dating a proud racist and misogynist. Literally the opposite of what I wanted. But my dark side has become so addicted to the drama of it and my ego so addicted to the need to feel important and needed that I couldn’t stop myself. I am not a yeller but when he would call me a whore and then gas light me and shut down, I became LIVID and even screamed at him. I’m not a screamer! I have never screamed at anyone in my life! So this experience was absolutely one of duality for me. My higher self fighting so hard to shut down my dark side and my dark side winning until it almost got me killed. Not to say yours isn’t worse because of bipolar disease or anything. I have relatives with hat and they desperately need that medication that I clearly don’t. But I’m just saying that more people, bipolar or not, can relate to duality and fighting the self than you may think. So you’re not so different maybe.

      Thanks also for promoting my work. Any way you can get this story into the world would be greatly appreciated! Social media , telling friends, whatever!

      Thanks and this conversation has been great. Go to my Facebook page if you want to see how blown away my friends were by your message…

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