A word about Content: The Empress Dammit is not a fan of “trigger warnings,” however, this page does mention the child abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence I survived. I have tried not to be graphic but it may be upsetting to some people.
It didn’t begin “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It didn’t even begin as a particularly interesting story! It began, I am told, in a hospital in Bakersfield, California where I was born to most likely, a young unwed mother. Abortion was illegal. The adoption was closed and I’ve never been able to find out the details or who my birth parents really were. I was given up, I can only surmise with the hope that I would be raised in a good Christian home with two loving parents and given better opportunities than a shamed single mother might manage.
I don’t begrudge my birth parents giving me up. I wouldn’t have begrudged them having an abortion. And although I have become increasingly interested with age, I’ve always panicked a bit at the thought of meeting any family one day! What would I say if asked, did I have a good life, a happy childhood and a loving home? Because that didn’t happen exactly as they might have hoped and I don’t think I could sugar coat what really happened.
I won’t go into detail right now, right here because the details aren’t important at this time. Suffice it to say, my sense of self worth, if I ever had one at the start, was systematically destroyed by criticism, cruelty, manipulation, emotional, physical and sexual abuse from the age of about three all the way up into my adulthood. Despite being, smart, talented, and I realize now, quite pretty, I felt stupid, unloved and undesirable. The only positive attention I got seemed to come from my perceived sexuality and from music. I was a talented singer. I was desperate for love, affection and attention and I made many harmful decisions because of it. I was a predator’s wet dream!
However, there was always something at the core that kept me from sliding into the pit completely. Miraculously, I didn’t become dangerously promiscuous, pregnant, addicted to drugs or alcohol and I’m not dead yet! I did consistently get sucked into abusive situations with family, friends and love relationships. Every time I was sure I had wised up and wouldn’t get sucked in again, I would fool myself into thinking, this one is different. However, it was just a different version of the same thing. I was primed for this from an early age. It was normal to me. I had never experienced anything to compare it with.
Then, a few years ago, things fell apart completely. I had been in a relationship with someone I adored for nearly four years. The first few years seemed great, though looking back I see a mountain of red flags! He was always telling me how wonderful I was and that I was the best thing that ever happened to him. He had never been so happy, etc. He would even drive around the block an extra time or two if I was singing in the car because he loved my voice.
The last year, however, things started to crumble. He lost his job. He’d always been angry but now it started to turn toward me. Previously, he ridiculed and griped about the stupidity and ineptitude of his boss, coworkers and friends. He railed about how they were out to make him miserable. Now, suddenly he began to criticize me constantly. He yelled at me for absurd reasons. He couldn’t find a replacement job and to me, he seemed to be a completely different person than the one I fell in love with.
While, in the past he had been angry, he had never been angry with me and never seemed violent. The last few months of the relationship that changed. There were incidents where he held me and would not let go or shook me. He even pushed me once. He yelled at me a lot. One night, just shy of our anniversary he flew into a rage without warning. I don’t know what, if anything, set him off. Perhaps the trigger was that he had been fired from his last job exactly one year earlier and that morning another prospective employer rejected him. At first he seemed fine. We went out. We had a good time. We came home. One minute we were laughing and talking about watching a movie. The next, he was furious; accusing me of stealing a flash drive and shoving me up against a bookcase so hard that he nearly knocked it and me over.
When I asked him to leave and calm down, he refused. I asked him several times, calmly. I rarely raise my voice. I have complex PTSD so my instinct is never to escalate things. When I tried to get to the front door to get away, he blocked me, threw me down and yanked me back up again several times. I was trapped in a very small place between the door and a desk so I couldn’t get any leverage. He wasn’t a big guy but he made me understand quickly what the description of “being thrown like a rag doll” actually feels like.
He then began choking me and when that didn’t do the trick, he started slamming my head against the front door. For a few seconds I was in shock. I snapped in and out of consciousness as my head thumped. In the midst of it all, I distinctly remember thinking, well, this is officially over. There’s no repairing this. I’m done. Suddenly, I realized I needed to fight back or I was going to be dead. Finally, I managed to break away, kicked at him and ran for my phone, which was all the way in the back of the house! As I wriggled free, he smirked and mocked me. As I ran to my room, he made a preemptive call to the police. He got through first because his phone was in his pocket.
His story was that I attacked him and he defended himself but since the evidence didn’t back that up, he later explained to the judge that I had caused all the injuries to myself and that he had, in fact tried to help me. This didn’t match the photographic evidence which included bruises in the shape of his fingers on my throat as well as on my arms and wrists. There was no way I could have done this to myself and the judge said as much. On the other hand, all he had was a light scratch and a small tear on his shirt from my flailing and trying to get away. I was successful in getting a restraining order but the DA’s office decided not to follow through with the felony assault charges because he was a first time offender.
The aftermath of dealing with the police, court and the retaliation from some of his friends was brutal. As is often the case with controlling and abusive relationships, I had let a lot of my close friendships lapse and his friends had all become our friends. I was ostracized. Lies were spread about me. I was in dire straights financially. When the economy tanked, my business during 2008/09 dwindled to practically nothing. I already had some debilitating health problems.Admittedly, I had been dependant on my boyfriend and his unemployment to get us through. When you end a relationship with a parting gift of impending felony assault charges and a restraining order you don’t ask for help with rent. I never even entertained the thought of taking him back. Trying to kill me sucked all the romance out.
At this point I had severe PTSD (On top of the Complex PTSD I didn’t actually know I had.) I had so much anxiety, I could barely function. I stopped sleeping at night. I was terrified all the time. I didn’t feel safe at home or out and about. Somehow, I needed to find a way to push through it, pay my rent, get him served with the restraining order, deal with the police and the courts and possibly, find a new home.
Suddenly, I was treated like a different person. One thing that really hurt deeply was that we knew a lot of musicians. My music connections were important to me. There was a band whose members we knew well (I won’t mention the name) that was up and coming in the music scene. The guitarist had just been signed with a major rock act but was still doing his own stuff on the side. We went to all their shows. My ex was always a hanger on, bumming free tickets and CDs off them. In contrast, I would not only buy things for myself, I brought them new fans who PAID to get into their shows and bought their merchandise. I figured that would count for something. These guys and the guitarist’s wife saw me shortly after the assault. At the time, I did not disparage my ex or mention the legal stuff. I expressed my shock as did they. Despite heavy makeup, they could see my black eye and bruises. They acted really sympathetic and shocked.
(Here I am with a friend I brought to one of their shows. We both paid and bought CDs. Later at the same show, a guy tossed a beer at me. When I confronted him, he described someone who would have fit my abuser’s description. He said the guy paid him $20 to throw beer on my silk jacket.) He was pissed because the restraining order meant he had to leave.
One drunken, oh what the hell, I need to sleep with someone, anyone that is not him to purge his memory, kind of night, I ran into one of the band members in a bar and went home with him. He got really drunk. The sex was unremarkable. I left as soon as possible. This dude tried to get me to stay then became weepy because sobering up, I suppose he felt he had betrayed his buddy by sleeping with the ex. The ex part suddenly didn’t seem to matter, nor did the fact that this girl, also a friend supposedly, was still sporting a black eye from that fanbro.
Still, he tried to get me to stick around and later invited me to a show for yet another band he was in. (These guys all have multiple music projects. It would be easier to name them but I don’t want to go there). Then he told me in a panic that my ex would be at that show and I might want to stay away. I thanked him for the heads up and promptly made plans to have my ex served with the court papers. After trying to track my abuser down for a couple of months to serve him with a restraining order I had exhausted all my options. I had made multiple trips to court for extensions and no one would tell me where he was living. I finally had him served at this guy’s show. Afterwards I am sure he fumed, pouted and pulled out all the manipulative stops. Afterwards, they all took his side and ghosted me. I thought they were good people. It was shameful and pathetic. I can’t even listen to their music anymore.
I was just devastated. Not only had I lost someone I loved in a blitz of shocking, inexplicable violence, but now everyone I trusted had become convinced that I was insane, violent and had wronged him deeply. One mutual friend who did not drink the KoolAid assured me I would not lose his friendship. He said that no one had ever seen a hint of the behavior my ex was now ascribing to me, but that he had been an angry person for as long as they had all known him. He also underscored for me that, no matter what, my ex had no excuse for becoming violent with me. I was so grateful for those words.
As I was packing up my ex’s things, which included a digital recorder, I got an unexpected but chilling gift. I accidentally hit a button on the device and I was afraid I might have recorded myself so I decided to play it back. It turned out I hadn’t recorded anything after all. What I heard was his audio diary. “I have to talk quietly,” he said, “She might come in any minute now.” In this particular entry he was laying out a cold, calculated plan to systematically wear me down, make me think I was crazy and to push me into depression.
With excitement in his voice he revealed his gaslighting plot, delighted in how sad he was making me and said it would be “so convenient” if I killed myself. (I suppose he had to resort to homicidal assault when I didn’t comply.) He then went on to fantasize about how, once I was dead he would then take over the house, keep my car and have my cat all to himself. It was truly horrific but it allowed me to instantly stop feeling sorry for him. As I continued packing his things up I found important documents of mine that he had squirreled away without my permission. I had already returned a number of storage boxes he had labeled as his. He accused me of stealing things of his in court, but despite everything, I tried to be really conscientious. Now, I realized it would be smart to look inside before returning any more. In the boxes I started to find mail that belonged to me, documents with my parents social security numbers on them, my taxes, scanned documents he had stolen from his previous employer and old medical paperwork of his, which included a diagnosis from a psychiatrist of, “Antisocial Personality Disorder.” Finding all that explained A LOT and I was able to let myself off the hook. This guy was a master manipulator!
There was further fallout. I had more legal and financial troubles. Several of my beloved pets died. I had to rehome a cat and two bunnies that I loved! I lost the house I’d lived in for more than 10 years. My credit was destroyed. I became a nomad for a year, couch surfing, house-sitting, subletting, staying in some nightmarish places. Some people were very generous. Others meant to be helpful but actually caused more harm. Some were malicious and greedy, taking advantage of my desperate situation. A lifetime of precious and utilitarian belongings were lost when I fell behind on storage payments and my stored possessions were sold. Being denied access to things I already owned I had to redundantly acquire basics. Things I needed, I could not afford. Ultimately, I had to pay more for everything. I learned how expensive it is to be poor!
Subsequently, when I had new relationships, I was cautious, yet I continued to be gullible. At the first sign of anger issues or alcoholism I sent a suiter packing. Shortly after things had died down I started a romantic relationship with someone I thought was a good friend. I fell hard and I believed almost everything he said. As the relationship progressed I saw signs of sociopathic behavior and soon, his victims started coming out of the woodwork. I escaped any serious harm but I now realize he had been grooming me via our friendship for years and swooped in when I was most vulnerable. Still, I stumbled through. I’d give up on love. Then, I’d be hopeful. I’d stick my toe in and change my mind. Finally, I was given another gift. It was a truly horrible gift that cost me dearly but it allowed me to gain my first real foothold on the path to self esteem.
I got sucked into an unhealthy polyamorous relationship. There’s no other way to describe it, than sucked in. Their official relationship was a triad of two men and a woman. One of the men and I developed a bit of a mutual crush and got tentative permission to see me. I became the woman as well because it was the only way she would agree to it. Don’t misunderstand, I was attracted to her and cared for her deeply, but she was an insecure controlling, diva. They were terribly manipulative while I was trying to be so straightforward and sincere. They used me constantly. They basically coerced me into their bed because of my desperate financial situation. She got moody and threw tantrums. She had me pretend we were just friends in front of her other girlfriend. I tried to accommodate them while they told me I was unreasonable and acting inappropriately. I later found out this was heir M.O. I kept saying, “That’s it! I’ve had it!” and then I would get sucked back in.
Ultimately, I woke up to the realization that there was nothing wrong with me in this relationship, only that it was the wrong relationship for me. For the first time in my life, I was able to look at a relationship clearly and say, IT’S NOT ME. IT’S YOU!
During this time I had found a new tarot deck and I started a practice of drawing a card from the deck every day. For several months in a row The Empress Card came up almost every single day. Sometimes when I would randomly cut the cards she would be there. She continued to come up consistently in my draws for that entire year. I had never related to the classic symbol of the Empress. I didn’t feel any of the attributes commonly associated with the card. There is very much a sense of wife and mother and domesticity about the card I could never relate to, but this Empress was different. She was regal, strong, independent, self assured, a take no nonsense kind of lady.
On the left the classic Empress card. On the right, the Empress from The Buckland Romani Tarot.
I tried doing affirmations. I looked in the mirror and tried to see myself as The Empress. I didn’t feel powerful, empowered, entitled to anything. It was really painful. I kept trying to say, “I am The Empress” but I felt really stupid doing it. Humor has always been a huge coping mechanism of mine, so one day when I was looking my reflection in the eye, and trying to claim my Empress nature by sounding regal, I said, “Damn it! I am the Empress!” It felt ridiculous. Immediately, Eddie Murphy’s parody of the old Gumby character on SNL came to mind. He would always introduce himself, “I’m Gumby Dammit!” So, I giggled and said, “I’m The Empress Dammit!” and then suddenly, it wasn’t funny. It was a THING!
One of the first things I decided after my self coronation was that I did not need to keep people who lie to me, try to manipulate or undermine me in my life. I also tried to quit feeling bad or shameful about asking for help, or having nice things despite being poor, or just asking for what I needed and wanted. And then, more and more, I stopped feeling so crushed when people said, no. I started to be really open and honest about everything. Some people did not like it at all! I guess it’s hard to give up a good doormat.
I work on this every day and I still have a lot of work to do. I have a natural tendency to take people at face value and to care about them regardless of their damage. It is still very painful sometimes. I’m making progress though. This is a major attempt to change old ways of behavior and a lifetime of thinking that my only value was in giving people what they wanted. Of course, I have have setbacks. I still have the inner voices that argue, “I am worthless” No you’re not.” “I deserved that.” “No that isn’t fair. It’s not ok.” “I am really just shit.” “No, you are The Empress Dammit! I AM The Empress Dammit!”
The most beautiful thing is that I get feedback that I am inspiring others. As I heal I find I am able to help others take those first steps. This makes me really happy.
One of my favorite Mae West quotes is:
“I never said it would be easy. I said it would be worth it.”
Each, “Thank You,” I get from someone I’ve helped reminds me it’s worth it!
That’s how I became, The Empress Dammit!
And you can be too!