Tuesday 24 February 2015

Hiding Behind The Screen

Last week, I wrote a blog about emotional abuse.  It was pretty personal; I detailed some of my own experiences of emotional abuse in my last relationship.  To say that writing it was difficult is an understatement and it's fair to say that on some level, putting it out there into the public domain was a little scary.

The response was largely positive and supportive and for that I am incredibly grateful.  However, one comment sent chills down my spine when I read it.  That comment suggested that I'm incapable of caring for anyone but myself.  It said I have a "cold, tiny heart."  It told me that I was only considering my needs and feelings and I had no consideration for my poor ex.

Except...  Well, if you read the blog, you'll see that whilst in the relationship, I put my ex's needs and feelings ahead of my own time and time again, to the detriment of my own well being.  I believed him, supported him and was abused in return.  My "cold, tiny heart" belonged entirely to him, unconditionally and with all the support he could have asked for.

Still, my thoughts when I read the comment (after I had stopped feeling physically sick and shaking) weren't for wanting to defend myself - after all, I have done nothing that requires defence,  Instead, there was one question in my mind:  Why?

We're all humans, with differing views.  Anything we read, watch or listen to, we are able to form an opinion on.  That opinion may be coloured by our past experiences.  That in itself is fine.  I'm certainly the last person in the world who's going to sit here and write a blog in which I suggest that having an opinion is of itself a bad thing!  I'm also absolutely not going to suggest that expressing that opinion is of itself wrong.  To do so would not only be inaccurate, but stupid - I'm writing a blog!  I express opinions all the time!

However, there is a line that I don't believe should be crossed.  

If you've got an opinion, by all means share it.  But before you do, consider who you're sharing it with and consider how you're sharing it.

The Internet is an amazing thing, connecting people from all walks of life.  But the safety of sitting behind a screen can dehumanise communication at times.  Every now and then, someone seems so intent on expressing their opinion, that they don't take the same consideration for the person they're speaking to that they might normally.  Instead of saying "I disagree and this is why," as you'd hope they would in reality, a person online might simply bash out the words: "YOU ARE FUCKING WRONG!  I HOPE SOMEONE BEATS SOME SENSE INTO YOU!"

Would we do that in reality?  Or is it just that "talking" to someone from behind a screen gets rid of all those inconvenient social niceties that prevent most of us from being cruel or inappropriate?

Or is it that in this fast-moving world, we no longer have the time to sit and consider our reaction before we hit "send?"

Whatever the reason, it's my view that words are powerful.  We can use them as tools to educate, or as weapons to destroy.  After all, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can cut much deeper.

Having an opinion is our right.  Expressing that opinion is equally our right.  But before we furiously hammer the keys on our computer, putting our views out there in the most thoughtless way possible, perhaps we ought to remember that whilst we can't see the person on the other side of the screen, it doesn't mean they don't exist.  It doesn't mean that our words can't touch a nerve.

There is no sense in hiding behind a screen, firing off vitriol at a person we probably haven't even met (and more than likely never will), simply because we disagree with their views.  Jumping to insults is, after all, the quickest way to lose an argument.

Somewhere out there, sitting behind another screen, is a person reading your words.  Hiding behind a computer might make it very easy to metaphorically shoot that person down.  But it being easy doesn't make it right.

That's not to say that I don't approve of debate.  I love debate.  Discussion and debate is how we learn, how we move forwards and, done well, can actually be a healthy way to show respect for someone whose views we disagree with.  You're giving that person time to air their views and you're giving yourself a chance to respond.  That is brilliant and in no way am I suggesting that healthy debate should be discouraged.

But it's the all-too-frequent reliance of some people on negativity, insults and even threats that I feel needs to be stamped out.  If you disagree with someone over a trivial matter in "real life," would you respond by threatening to physically attack them?  If not (and I really hope the answer to that is a resounding "no"), why is it acceptable to respond that way online?

The answer is, simply, that it isn't.

So, be proud of your opinions and express them at will.  But remember that you're not just flinging random letters into the ether.  Debate, discuss and argue by all means.  But the second you resort to judgements, insults or threats, your point, however valid, is dismissed.  The argument - regardless of who is truly right or wrong - has been lost.

Let's not hide behind our screens, throwing hate out into the world.  Let's really read the words people are putting out there and respond with a little respect and maturity, whether we agree with them or not.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Emotional Abuse & Me

Me, back in early 2010.  That's a hood, it's honestly not my hair...

In March 2012, something life-changing happened to me.  That's not hyperbole.  It genuinely was a moment that changed my life and changed me forever.

I'd been having counselling for three or four months, following the end of a relationship.  A relationship in which I'd convinced myself I was a bad person.  A weak, sad, pathetic, desperate, clingy, needy woman, whom nobody could ever really love.  I'd been with someone who'd given me a sob story about how messed up he was and how he didn't really know how to behave in a relationship.  He'd told me he couldn't help his behaviour; he was scared by how close I'd gotten to him, so he reacted by pushing me away.  And I stuck around, wanting to help him, so surely I was sort of to blame for whatever he did to me after he'd warned me off?  As he himself put it, the last time I ever spoke to him face to face: "You knew what you were getting into.  I'm not to blame for any of this.  You are."

After I finally found the strength to walk away from him - nearly two years after we first met - I was convinced I'd "abandoned" him.  He used the word often enough to describe people no longer in his life, so I suppose it was drummed into my brain.  

I blamed myself.  I hated myself.  I found myself drinking a glass of wine most nights "just to take the edge off" the pain I was feeling.  I'd cry myself to sleep and hope I never woke up.  Every morning, when I did wake up, I'd find myself with a head full of dark questions: "Why am I so useless?"  "Why doesn't everyone just ditch me?  I'm not worth knowing."  "Why wasn't I strong enough to help him?"  "Why am I such a failure?"

When it all got too much, I eventually sought counselling.  I spent my sessions putting myself down, acting as prosecution, judge and jury at my own trial.  I found myself guilty.  My counsellor sat, listened, asked questions and made notes.  Then, in my penultimate session, my counsellor leaned forwards, with a pamphlet in her hands.  She spoke in a very soft, calm voice.  She said simply: "What you've been describing is abuse.  I think you need to call this number and speak to someone about what happened to you."

It was like a bucket of cold water to the face.  I sat and shivered in my seat.  I said just five words:

"But he never hit me."

So many of us, when we hear the word "abuse," think of two things: Physical violence and rape.  I'm quite ashamed to say that even as a childcare practitioner of 14 years' experience, trained in abuse and how to spot it, I didn't really realise that emotional abuse was something that happened between two adults.  

I went home with the abuse pamphlet in my trembling hands.  My counsellor had to be wrong.  I wasn't abused!  I was to blame; I had brought this all on myself.  Still, I knew my last counselling session would take place a fortnight later and I'd be expected to have rung the abuse charity whose pamphlet I'd been given.  My stomach churned at the thought.  How could I phone a helpline used by women who'd been beaten and raped?!  I checked the times of operation and decided to ring after the helpline was closed.  That way, I could tell my counsellor I'd tried to get in touch with the charity, without actually having to do it.  If they had an answerphone service, I'd leave a message and they'd probably listen to it, scoff at my time-wasting and never call me back.  Either way, I had a convenient excuse for not having to actually speak to someone who'd call me out on my stupidity.  I left a message that began with the words "I'm sorry, I'm wasting your time..."

A day or two later, the phone rang.  A very nice, very kind lady with a soft voice explained that she was calling from the abuse charity - did I have time to talk?  I thought I was going to be sick.  They were surely about to tell me off for attempting to waste their valuable services!  I don't think my voice has ever trembled so much in all my life.

And yet shockingly - to me, at least - the lady on the end of the phone didn't tell me off.  She never said I was wasting her time.  Instead, she explained what emotional and psychological abuse was and how difficult it is to spot when you're in it.  She told me - more than once in that first phone call - that it wasn't my fault and that it was okay to let go of the blame I'd been holding on to.  The blame that had been poisoning every aspect of my life.  I'd found myself guilty.  She said I was innocent.

Three months (and several phone calls) later, I began weekly sessions with a support worker.  Ten months after that, I was a completely changed person.

I was going through the night, dead to the world, without crying myself to sleep first.

I had no need whatsoever to "take the edge off" the pain.  The pain was gone.

I didn't hate myself.  I didn't blame myself.  I saw myself having a bright, positive future.  I saw myself as having survived.

Most importantly of all, I was able to use the word "abuse."  I finally realised that my counsellor had been right, on that Earth-shattering day.  The use of my ex's tragic past to explain his behaviour had been manipulation.  The suggestion that if I left, I'd be abandoning him, was coercion to make me stay.  The insistence that the relationship had to be on his terms, labelled as he saw fit, was control.  The digs about my weight... The comments about me being "desperate and clingy" when all I wanted was to be shown some affection...  The demands for sex as soon as I'd arrived to see him, yet the accusation of me being a "pathetic slut" if I tried to initiate it on my terms...  The times he'd throw something across the room and say I made him "violent..."  The time he forced me into the shower, blocking the bathroom door, making me scrub my feet so I was less "fucking disgusting..."  The time he told me that if I was pregnant, he'd give me "the coat-hanger treatment..."  The times he compared me unfavourably to other women - ones he'd been with before me and ones he slept with whilst we were together... The times he'd get what he wanted sexually, then roll over and warn me in no uncertain terms not to touch him, leaving me feeling alone and confused... The times he'd deliberately wind me up and then leave me sexually frustrated... The times he'd deliberately make me angry or upset, so he could criticise my reaction and use it as justification for refusing to commit to a relationship with me...The insistence that none of it was his fault; the world was cruel and out to get him and he was just trying to deal with his issues the only way he knew how...  It was abuse.  All of it.

And once I saw that, I was angry.  Not just with him, but with myself.  How had I not seen it?!  Why did I put up with it all?!

But of course, I was being manipulated.  I fell for his tragic sob story.  The whole "I was abused as a child; I only push you away because I'm scared... I don't know any other way to behave" shebang.  And I wanted to fix him.  I - as crazy as it might sound, given the above list of atrocious things he said and did - loved him.  And when he told me he loved me too, I believed him.  I was going to see it through, however hard it was.  I was going to help him let go of his awful past and move forwards into a happy, loving future.  

Eventually, my amazing support worker helped me to let go of the anger I felt at my own perceived weakness and made me realise that I wasn't weak at all.  I was so, so strong.  I had put him first, even when it hurt me to do so, because I loved him and believed I was helping him.  And maybe, if he had wanted to grow and change as a person, I would have been.  But he didn't want that.  He wanted to use me.  He wanted an excuse to treat me - and others - however he saw fit.  He chose to abuse. 

Abuse is always, always a choice.  Abusers don't go around controlling, manipulating or otherwise abusing people every minute of every day.  They often have jobs, hobbies and social circles, in which they behave as anyone else would.  They can be charming and even affectionate (otherwise, you'd spot the abuse more easily and leave far sooner).  In the moments when a person chooses to abuse, whatever form that abuse takes, they do it through choice.  Not because they had a terrible past and don't know any better.  Not because you've done something to cause them to have no choice but to abuse you.

Once I stepped out from the shadow of my experience, I was able to see it clearly for what it was.  And now, three and a half years after leaving, I can understand why I didn't recognise it at the time.  I heard his "explanations" and I accepted them.  I thought I could help him.  I focused on the times we sat up all night, snuggled together, pouring our hearts out to one another.  I held on to the times he'd make me laugh, or hold me when I cried.  I saw the relationship I wanted us to have, whilst he manipulated me into being blind to what we really had.  Which, of course, was nothing.

I want to go back in time and tell this girl "I know you like him, but just RUN."

Now, more than five years after I first met my ex, I co-run a campaign called Fifty Shades Is Domestic Abuse.  Not because I'm a prude, who hates the thought of BDSM.  Not because I want to censor anyone's reading or viewing habits.  But because when I read the trilogy, I was stunned to realise I was reading something that may as well have been about my ex, give or take a few billion in the bank and a pair of handcuffs.  The manipulation, the coercion, the control...  It was all there.

Fans of the book often tell me there's no abuse in Fifty Shades.  The author tells survivors the same on a pretty much daily basis, often in a hugely offensive, borderline abusive manner (she even sent a rape survivor triggered by her books a gif of a woman throwing a book at someone's head, with the hashtag "#ignorant").  But just as I didn't recognise my own abuse at the time, it doesn't mean it wasn't there.  The abuse in Fifty Shades is very much there.  But when you point it out, the two myths I clung onto get trotted out by fans:  "But he doesn't know any better; he's messed up!"  And: "She sticks around and she cures him with her love."

I know it's a fantasy and the whole point of fantasy is that it doesn't have to have its roots in reality.  But considering emotional/psychological abuse is so insidious that it often goes unrecognised even by the people living with it, I don't think we need fantasy that romanticises it and perpetuates the idea that sticking with an abusive person will cause them to change in the end so that you live happily ever after.

All of which brings me to what caused me to write this piece in the first place.  In the past 48 hours, three separate Fifty Shades fans have contacted me to tell me that emotional abuse "doesn't exist."  One, a survivor of physical violence, even made the shocking decision to send me a photo of herself covered in bruises, with the tag: "THIS IS ABUSE, YOU FUCKING IDIOT.  THERE IS NO OTHER FORM!"

Except there is.  Of course there is.  Emotional & psychological abuse are recognised by all major abuse charities and by the government of this country.  It may not cause bruises, but it causes scars that run deep, even if they cannot be seen by the naked eye.  The fact that there are people out there - and I believe there are far more than just three - who refuse to believe that such a thing exists proves that we need far greater awareness of what constitutes abuse and where to get help.

Five years after I met my ex, I spend some of my time writing on abuse and campaigning against it.  I'm not "weak" or "pathetic," like he said I was.  I've grown and become stronger than I ever thought I could be.  I have a voice and I'm proud to make it heard.

So when you next hear someone say they've experienced emotional abuse, don't tell them that such a thing doesn't exist.  Don't ignore them or dismiss them.  Listen.

Monday 16 February 2015

Guest post: Fifty Shades of Growing A Spine

So, today EL James changed her Twitter bio information to this:

Methinks the lady doth protest *too* much...

In other news, I'm very excited to be presenting you with a guest post, tonight - the first ever guest post on this blog!  

Last week, I wrote a short piece of fiction called "Later's Baby," which was my idea of how the Fifty Shades trilogy should have ended.  If you haven't already, you can read it here.

It spawned a few other pieces of what I've dubbed "anti-fan-fic" (or what less wordy people like to call "spitefic!").  Some writers sent me links to their own pieces of fiction.  Others sent me their stories in their entirity.  Tonight, I'm going to share one of them here.  Please do keep writing these, everyone - feel free to post links in the comments section.  I can't wait to read more!

You don't need any more waffle from me, so I'm just going to post this alternative ending for you to read.  I'll be back later this week with my very own ramblings... Until then, I'll leave you with this, from Julia Pitt.  As always, with anything connected to Fifty Shades, there's something of a trigger warning:

50 Shades Of Growing A Spine

By Julia Pitt

Anastasia Steele had really had enough. She had no personal experience with sex before Mr. Grey (even as she thought about this, she wondered why he never allowed her to use his first name. Surely they were intimate enough for that by now!) but she watched her friends in relationships. Though her parents’ relationship had ended in divorce, she was pretty sure they hadn’t been into the kind of things Christian seemed to think were fantastic. She had told Christian many times that she didn’t like how he hurt her but Mr. High and Mighty never listened. Too busy getting his own needs met to even care about hers! And his latest attempt at making her feel like nothing but a plaything to be tossed aside at his whim? That was the last straw, to use a tired cliché.

She replayed the words she had said to him the night before, debasing herself and saying how she loved him. She cringed in shame. Had she always been so needy? So spineless? So pathetic? For the first time in months she lay alone in her queen sized bed, blissfully alone with her thoughts. She had pretended to be upset with him when he didn’t invite – no – command her to join him on his overnight business trip but in reality, she was relieved. It was indeed a blessing in disguise. At last she had the breathing room to take a good, hard look at her relationship with the billionaire and see how much he hurt her. He hurt her emotionally and physically. And, if she was completely honest, he took chunks out of her soul, too.

For a moment she lay in her bed in the fetal position, sobbing her heart out. Christian never allowed her to cry, not unless it was for him in some way. Like the previous night where he had become catatonic until she said how she was nothing without him. Just the thought of what she had said made her more miserable. When the tears finally abated and she could breathe again, memories from high school began to trickle through. José had taken her to the prom, not as her boyfriend, but as her friend. He had always been so dependable and kind and thoughtful. The antithesis of Mr. Grey in every possible way. In the ninth grade Anastasia had been teased about her flat chest and skinny body. Her nickname was bean pole until José took it upon himself to pretend to be her boyfriend – for the entire four years. Since he was one of the most popular guys in school, the bullies eased up. For the most part.

When Anastasia went off to college, she assured José they no longer needed to keep up the ruse and from there they continued to be friends – though more at a distance. Before Christian came along she had begun to miss José and wonder if maybe she was beginning to think of him as more than a friend. And then she wondered if he felt the same way, but her low self esteem convinced her that there was no way he could ever see her as more than a friend. Then Christian entered her life, literally sweeping her off her feet.

Ana sat up and scrubbed her palm over her eyes, angrily wiping away the tears. Anger flashed in her eyes as she regarded her pale complexion in her dresser mirror. Enough already! Was she a woman or a mouse? She had once had a spark that could turn into a flame. All before Christian. And she still had it! She wasn’t going to be put down anymore! Shaking with a mixture of fury and fear, she picked up her cell phone. Turning off the GPS before removing the back of the phone, she removed the bug never before thought to look for. With a flick of her fingers she sent it flying into the trash can. It hit the side and went in with a satisfying ping. Three points for Anastasia Steele! All star basketball player! Ana exulted, raising her hand over her head in triumph. She was starting to enjoy this, her first tiny act of rebellion. She quickly put her phone back together and as she did, glanced around the room, wondering where the hidden cameras were. Hopefully Christian was so far away, that even if he could see her, he couldn’t stop her.

It felt really, really good to defy Christian. She gained courage from the sudden rush of adrenaline surging through her veins. Before she lost that courage she dialled the number Christian had made her delete from her phone. Not that it mattered, since she knew it by heart. José answered on the first ring, almost as if he had been waiting for her to call. Which was silly, because he couldn’t possibly want to speak to her after she had pretty much shut him out of her life. Anastasia felt that old familiar panic. Until she noticed the girl in the mirror glaring back at her. “Anastasia Steele!” she berated herself silently. “Grow a back bone girl! Stop sniveling and get on with it! You want to be free, right?” She straightened her shoulders, silently praying that José would help her.

“Ana?” José’s voice was warm and curious. “Are you okay? Why are you calling so late? Actually, why are you calling at all?” He didn’t sound angry, just confused.

She took a deep breath and blurted it out. A glance at the clock by her bed showed that she was wasting valuable time. “José, I need your help. I’m leaving Christian.”

“Oh. Thank God! It’s about time, Ana.” Again, there was no anger or censure in his voice. Only relief. For the first time in too long, Ana felt safe and warm. Did she care more for José than she was willing to admit to herself? Did she dare hope he could ever return her feelings or that there was a chance for them? She shut the thought down. Right now she needed to get out of a relationship, not jump straight into another.

Taking a deep breath, Anastasia said through a voice beginning to tremble, “I need your help to get away from him. Please.”

José barely let her finish her request before assuring her, “I’ll be there in five.”

Anastasia blinked. “Five minutes? But...don’t you live across town?”

José chuckled. “I’ve been waiting for your call. Even moved closer to you just in case you needed me. Look, I’ll explain everything when I get there. See you in four and a half.” Then he hung up.

Anastasia swallowed hard and tossed the phone on the bed. Christian may have claimed to be away overnight, but she wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up at her apartment much earlier than that. He was so obsessed with her that she wouldn’t put it past him. Five minutes...no. Less than that now. José would be there soon and she wasn’t dressed or packed or anything. Anastasia leaped out of bed, hauled the largest suitcase she owned onto the bed and began to pack frantically. She stopped for a precious minute to throw on street clothes, then dashed to her bathroom to get toiletries. She didn’t intend to ever return to this apartment, so she had better gather everything she could in one go.

Two minutes to spare. Dare she leave a note telling Christian that she was leaving him? There wasn’t time. She pushed her feet into a pair of sneakers, grabbed her keys and tossed her hair up into a ponytail. Almost as an afterthought she loaded the hand gun she kept in her bedside table drawer and stuck it into the waistband of her jeans. With all her small valuables in her purse, she lugged the suitcase to the door. She raised her hand to turn the knob but a sound outside the door made her pause. It was a grating, like a key turning in a lock. Not José.

She jumped back just in time as the door crashed inward. Even though she had expected he might come back early, seeing him in all his fury made her legs weak. “Mr. Grey!” She thought she would be sick. She was like a cornered animal, knowing she would be slaughtered if she so much as moved. Oh, where was José? She licked her lips, wishing for a glass of water to soothe her parched throat. The fire in eyes she had once found so alluring was searing her soul as he stared her down. She dropped her purse and the suitcase and backed away slowly. So far he hadn’t moved or said a word. There was fury but also a wry smirk on his handsome face.

The truth hit her like a wrecking ball. Tonight had been a test. Christian had never left the city. He had given her space to see if she would run. It was one more sick part of his game. If she tried to escape, he would get his rocks off punishing her. No. She wouldn’t die at his hand but she would certainly wish she had. Anastasia took deep gulps of air, sweat trickling down her forehead. She stifled a whimper of fear. José would never get here in time. She was on her own against a man who was more monster than any she had ever met.

Christian continued to stare her down, his breath coming out in harsh pants as he slowly advanced. “You. Are. Mine! How many times to I have to tell you that, Anastasia? You can’t leave me! I own you!”

Those words, spoken with deadly certainty were all it took. At long last, something in Anastasia snapped. Before he reached her she whipped the gun out of her belt and aimed it at his heart. She didn’t scream it, though in her head she was shouting. Instead she responded with a deadly voice of her own. “I belong to myself. Not to you or anyone else. I said I was leaving and I am. I’m never coming back and you’re just going to have to deal with it, Sir!” She stretched out the ‘sir’ to make it as demeaning a term as possible. Then she cocked the hammer. “Now, get the hell out of my apartment before I put a hole where your heart’s supposed to be.”

Anastasia had the grim satisfaction of watching all the blood drain from his face when he saw that she was serious. His eyes were filled with fear as he raised his hands in surrender. “Now, now Anastasia. Let’s talk about this.”

Did she detect a tremor in the voice she had once thought so sexy? She couldn’t resist a smile, one that rivalled his own when he was trying to make her do what he wished. Only her smile had a deadly edge to it. Because Anastasia Steele was tired of being treated like crap. “It’s time for you to leave, Christian.” She put extra emphasis on his first name and held her ground. “I’ve had enough of being treated like your plaything. I’m sick and tired of being hurt by you. I never signed your damn contract and I never will. You’re a disgusting human being, Christian Grey. No. You’re not human. You’re a monster.”

She steadied the gun and blinked away sudden, unexpected tears. She had thought he loved her. Once. It hurt to realize that she had been deluding herself all this time. And that hurt was mixed with anger, enough to make the tears flow faster. Through the tears she noticed José standing behind Christian in the light of the hallway. Relieved to have backup, she relaxed.

Bad move. The moment she lowered the gun, Christian lunged at her, his fury propelling her head into the wall. She saw stars as he wrenched the gun away and used both hands to begin strangling her. “You can never leave me, Ana. Never. I won’t let you!” His breath was putrid, evidence that he had been drinking more than usual tonight. She gripped his hands and tried to push him off but it was like trying to move a reinforced concrete wall. Just as she was starting to black out, there was an explosion and Christian let her go.

She slumped to the floor, gasping and trying to get as much air in her lungs as possible. Through the oxygen deprived haze she could see Christian turn on José. Again, he was alarmingly quick. José never got a chance for a second shot because Christian punched him dead in the face, causing the younger man to fold like a poor poker hand. Christian stood over José, ready to shoot him where he lay.

With a scream, part agony, part fury, Anastasia scooped up her gun and fired two shots into Christian’s back. His head whipped around as he fell to his knees, his eyes filled with disbelief. “Why, Ana? I loved you. How could you do this to me? To us?”

Anastasia kept her hands steady, horrified that she had just shot him. There was no way she could show weakness now though. José’s life was still in danger and Christian still held his gun. Instead, she stood over him, broken but never beaten. The tears fell faster now. “You will never own me. You never loved me. You only ever loved yourself. Now you’re trying to kill me and the people I care about. I told you to leave. I gave your fair warning.” Outwardly she was calm but her inner voice was screaming at her to put a bullet in his head and end it. She shuddered. When had her inner voice become so vengeful?

Christian’s face contorted into a mask of hate as he struggled to sit upright. “You really think anyone can love you now that I’ve used you up? You are nothing without me!”

Anastasia’s eyes began to blur with a red haze. His words cut her to the core but instead of making her sad, they just made her angry. She was about to fire back a retort when another shot rang out and Christian slumped before her. His gun clattered to the floor, his mouth open in a permanent gasp of horror, his gaze fixed. Shocked, Anastasia’s gaze flew to José’s resigned expression. He stood over a now very dead Christian Grey, his own gun smoking. His beloved face was filled with guilt.

“I’m sorry, Ana. He would have shot you. I had to stop him.”

Anastasia dropped her gun like it was on fire, sank to the floor and wept. A moment later she was sobbing into José’s strong chest, his arms wrapped tightly around her. And that was all he did for a long moment. He didn’t demand she stop crying. He didn’t shout at her for letting her emotions out. He held her and he comforted her. She wept for the pain and suffering Christian had put her through in the name of love. She wept for the spineless human being who had let herself be swayed by a handsome face. She even wept for Christian’s tortured soul. When her tears had been spent José gently carried her out of the apartment and drove her far away from there. Then he called the police with an anonymous tip.

A week later the media told the story of how billionaire Christian Grey had been murdered in an apartment he owned, presumably due to a love triangle gone wrong. The murder weapons were never recovered and no prints were found on the body or even in the apartment. Apparently whoever killed Christian Grey was very careful to cover their tracks. His murder remained a mystery and he became old news within a month. Anastasia’s name was connected briefly with Christian’s but since she seemed to vanish from the face of the earth, the world ceased to care. Before long there were other crimes covered by the media and the media turned to those stories. A brief, lavish funeral was held in honour of the late Mr. Grey but no one attended except a few lawyers and a former submissive, Leila. All his assets were liquefied, and as he had made no will, substantial donations were made to various charities in his name. The most notable was shelter on Fifth and Main – a home for bruised and battered women.

A week after Christian’s death Anastasia changed her name, moved to Canada with José and started over. They dated for six months, after which he proposed and she accepted. Not long after, she began going to therapy and when she was ready, she and José started a family.

Two years after her trauma, Anastasia and her husband opened a shelter for abused women. They named it 50 Shades of Freedom, in dishonour of the man who started Anastasia on the long journey to realizing she had self worth and worth in the eyes of others, all along. And they all lived happily ever after. Except for Christian Grey.

The End

Saturday 14 February 2015

Fifty Shades and False Media Perceptions...

This is the real me: I seek out doughnuts the size of my face.

"Real life" is a funny concept.  Sometimes, we talk about celebrities and what they might be like in "real life."  It's a reasonable phrase to use, seeing as we're talking about people we don't know, some of whom play fictional characters as part of their job, but it's also always struck me as being a little odd.  After all, whilst we don't know them personally, those celebrities are just...Well, living.  Every day is their real life.  We're just not a part of it.

The concept of "real life" is often brought up when we talk about celebrities being misrepresented in the press.  "Oh, I know she said a bad thing, but she's lovely in real life!"  It's an unfortunate fact that if a person is in the public eye, one wrong sentence, or one dodgy behaviour captured on camera can become their undoing.  Doesn't matter what they're like in "real life."  If the media wants to put someone into a box, then they will - whether that person fits or not.

Now obviously, sometimes a celebrity is labelled correctly by the press as a result of some horrible behaviour or views espoused when they thought nobody was listening.  No amount of "I'm not like that in real life" can really save them then and rightly so.  We have a duty to call out the things we see as wrong.  But when we do make a public declaration that something or someone is wrong, we really ought to do so having listened to the other side of the argument before making our final judgement.

All of which brings me neatly on to the subject of - you guessed it - Fifty Shades.  I know, I know.  I'm as tired of having to make these points as you are of hearing them, I'm sure...

Most regular readers of this blog know that I'm one half of the Fifty Shades Is Abuse campaign.  I say "one half," because it's run by two people (myself and the wonderful Natalie Collins), but truthfully, it's supported and perpetuated by thousands of people.  Far too many to list, here.  That said, Natalie and I are the ones who give the interviews.  The ones who put our names to the campaign.  The ones who are then quoted when articles are written.  As a result, we accept that people are likely to have something to say in response.  After all, we're criticising something that has sold a hundred million copies.  We're questioning one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year.  

The trouble is, whilst we understand that there'll be many people who disagree with us, it doesn't really stop at mere disagreement.  It crosses a line into judgement.  Sometimes, into abuse.

Real-life me has an issue with fake ice.  That's the smile of a woman about to fall down.

Yes, since speaking publicly to the media about Fifty Shades Is Abuse, Natalie and I have been alarmed to check the campaign's Twitter account and find death threats, rape threats, accusations of being anti BDSM (particularly hilarious when you consider that a great number of our supporters are members of that community), accusations of being pro-censorship (something we've refuted in every interview we've given) and pleas from Fifty Shades fans to do the world a favour and kill ourselves.  It's kind of ironic that people feel the need to defend a book that we've said features abuse, by sending us... Abuse.  

It's at this point that I'd like to suggest a little further reading once you've finished this, because if you click here, you'll find the Fifty Shades Is Abuse campaign's "Myth-Busting" or FAQ blog.  It's a link we often send in response to criticism from people who don't know much about the campaign and have made quick - and indeed, false - judgements.

So as sad as it is, I've become depressingly used to clicking on the Fifty Shades Is Abuse twitter page and finding that someone has sent a tweet wrongly telling us that we're dictating what women can read and demonising BDSM.  And I've become used to sending them the FAQ, which helpfully explains that we're absolutely doing neither.  And I've become used to far too many people responding by telling us they'd never read anything written by an anti-kink prude, so we can shove our FAQ where the sun doesn't shine.  Repeat ad nauseum.

Of course, there's something of a safety switch involved, in as much as although it's hard to take the insults and trolling anything but personally, it's not being directed to us as individuals.  It's not reaching our personal Twitter accounts.  Or at least it wasn't...

In the immortal words of Kenneth Wolstenholme, it is now.

This appeared on the Telegraph website, yesterday.  The link appeared this morning in my personal Twitter notifications.  Along with (you guessed it) accusations of being anti-kink (ironically, I only wrote a piece on freedom of sexual expression yesterday), accusations of being pro-censorship, judgements from people I'd never even spoken to before, countless misogynistic comments about my desperate need to "get fucked" and the odd threat of physical assault.  A fun way to start the day, I'm sure you'll agree.

Firstly - and bizarrely - the piece refers to Fifty Shades Is Abuse as a "ring."  That's interesting, because what we actually are is a campaign run by two women.  There was a "Fifty Shades Is Abuse Web Ring," which was set up purely so that people could easily access links from various writers who'd tackled the subject of romanticised abuse in the books, but it wasn't set up by us (although we were listed as a resource on information, due to the wealth of writing we've accumulated on the subject).  Anyway, the article suggests that I'm a member of the Fifty Shades Is Abuse "ring."  Nope, just co-runner of an ever-growing Internet campaign, backed by hundreds from the BDSM community and several leading abuse charities.

The quote attributed to me in the piece comes from an open letter I wrote to the papers after I first read the books and had been massively triggered by them.  I wrote it not as a Representative of Fifty Shades Is Abuse, but simply as a survivor of domestic abuse.  So to have my words thrown back at me by someone who is essentially tying the campaign to their own idea that we must be prudish types, trying to censor women's reading material is particularly hurtful.  With all of the hype regarding the Fifty Shades films, would it really have been so hard to have found a quote from either Natalie or I in which we're talking from the campaign's perspective, not discussing our own, painful experiences of abuse?  The rest of the media seems to have managed it...

And interestingly, my letter was published anonymously, too.

The author of the piece, Rebecca Reid, goes on to compare the Fifty Shades Is Abuse campaign to the furore over Lady Chatterly's Lover, reminding her readers that back then, people were trying to control what women were entitled to read.  The comparison is absurd and actually, massively offensive.   The writer claims to have done research before writing her piece, yet she seems to have missed the fact that in every single print, radio and TV interview Natalie or I have done, we have made two points clear right off the bat:

1. We are not anti safe, consensual BDSM.
2. We are in no way pro-censorship.

From our FAQ.  

So the idea that we're being equated to those who, decades before we were born, were trying to clamp down on what women were allowed to read in their own time is just ludicrous.  I was interviewed on the radio recently and one point I raised was that we had no intention of controlling what anyone was or wasn't allowed to read.  To lump us into that pro-censorship, prudish category is to undo any claims of "research" into the campaign.  The author suggests that we're implying that women need to be "protected" from Fifty Shades and she describes this idea as "patronising, offensive and utterly ridiculous."  Which, being anti censorship, we would agree with.  Which is why we've never said it.
Unfortunately, the author then goes straight for the "it's fiction" argument.  And yes, it is fiction.  And no, that does not make romanticising abusive behaviour okay.

I'm bored of having to break this down, so I'll do it as briefly as possible:

1. It may be "fiction."  But stalking, coercion, manipulation, unwanted control and threats are the reality for 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men.  Were it fiction that featured these things and depicted them as being bad, there would be no problem.  Instead, these things are depicted as excusable due to Christian's past (there is no excuse to abuse) and even desirable, as a result of simply calling Fifty Shades "a love story."  Or, in Rebecca's words: "sexy and beautiful."  When you take such inexcusable behaviours and you write them as excusable, perpetuating dangerous abuse myths in the process, you're going to find that it does more than simply "chime with abuse survivors," as Rebecca puts it.  It glamorises our experiences.  Imagine the worst thing that has ever happened to you.  Now imagine that thing has been fictionalised and people are saying what a beautiful, wonderful thing it is and how they wish it would happen to them.  Wouldn't you want a voice?  Wouldn't you want more than to be dismissed by the author of the fiction, as well as fans (and now journalists)?

2.  It may be "fiction," but it's globally successful and has been accepted into popular culture almost without question.  This normalises the behaviour within the books.

3.  "It's just fiction" is a really handy way of utterly dismissing the views of hundreds of abuse survivors who were deeply upset by the way their experiences had been romanticised in this novel. It's an easy method of not listening to the abuse charities who've expressed concerns.  It's a convenient way of ignoring the many members of the BDSM community who are warning that the behaviour in the books is abuse, rather than a representation of their lifestyle.  Imagine you're one of those survivors, or charity workers, or Dom(me)s/subs.  You've been trying to speak out for the past two and a half years or more.  And every time you're put back in your box with "oh, it's only a book."  They may as well be saying "oh shut up and stop spoiling our fun."

Rebecca asks where the women who supposedly want their own Christian Grey are.  Well... They're on Twitter in their thousands.

Literally the most depressing thing I've seen today.  

They're the people buying the "Property of Christian Grey" t-shirts.  The fans who see nothing wrong in dressing their children in "Mummy wishes Daddy was Christian Grey" babygrows.  They're the writers in glossy magazines, selling Fifty Shades to readers with constant references to how "hot" it all is.  Seriously, one of the main comments I've had from friends (and other journalists!) who've read the Telegraph piece is: "Has this writer not thought to look at how many women are openly saying that they want their own Christian Grey?!"

Rebecca then makes the incredibly tired connection between us saying there's abuse in Fifty Shades and people who say horror movies inspire killings etc.  She claims we're putting women in the roles of children and it's "aggressively patronising and frightening."  Except, the teensiest bit of research would have found this, also from our FAQ:

So inconvenient when people don't fit the box you're trying to squeeze them into...

So no, we've never said that we think women who read Fifty Shades are in danger of rushing headlong into relationships with abusive men.  We've never patronised fans or insulted their intelligence.  But what does the truth matter, eh?  There are people out there insulting a series of books and a film!  We must put them firmly in their place, without listening to a word they're actually saying!  DOWN WITH CENSORSHIP!

EL James herself has a tactic of blocking and ignoring anyone who criticises her books as portraying abuse.  The Internet equivalent of sticking her fingers in her ears and singing "la la la..."  She's ignoring criticism from the very lifestyle she claims to be representing, too.  Of course she does; her books have made her a zillionnaire!  Who cares about the critics; they're only on about the sex scenes, anyway, right?!  Even the Telegraph article which inspired this blog was sent to EL James by a fan, with the words "you can use this as ammo."  Which she then retweeted to her millions of followers.  "Ammo," short for ammunition.  Ammunition against abuse charities, survivors and members of the BDSM community.  Because we're not allowed a voice.  It's inconvenient.  It's ironic that Rebecca Reid's article does the whole "take this away, lest women get dangerous ideas" scaremongering, when in fact, it's those who speak against EL James' books who are getting the "shut them up at once!" treatment.  And despite arguments to the contrary, most criticisms of our campaign (and seemingly me as a person) seem to centre around the idea that we're prudishly censoring women's sexual fantasies.

Fifty Shades has made erotica for women less of a taboo subject.  We agree that this is a good thing - I said as much on the radio only last week.  I'm a writer myself and my current novel (in the editing phase) has several graphic sex scenes.  I even know the proper words for "down there" and everything...  I think it's a genuinely great thing that women are embracing their sexuality.  I've read erotica on and off for years and it's brilliant that we don't have to be embarassed about it anymore.  More power to us ladies!  I simply think it's a bit of a let-down that it was this book that has brought the subject to the fore, considering that the sex scenes are interspersed with a woman being stalked, controlled against her will, crying because she's so confused and upset at the callous way she's being treated and feeling as though she can't judge her possessive partner's behaviour because he doesn't know any better.  

Which is rubbish.  Fifty Shades perpetuates two major abuse myths:

1) If a person has been abused in their past, they know no better and their behaviour shouldn't be judged.

2) If you love an abusive person the "right" way, they'll change for you and you'll live happily ever after.

And yes, I'm aware that the books (and now film(s)) are supposed to be a "fantasy."  But those myths have been utterly accepted and are now used against those who criticise Fifty Shades.  

"You can't judge Christian, he had an awful childhood!  You're fucking heartless if you call him an abuser.  And maybe your ex wasn't either."

That's a genuine comment made to me on Twitter a month or two ago, by a Fifty Shades fan.  I should add, it was made in response to my saying that his use of his childhood to excuse his behaviour had triggered me horribly, because that's exactly what my abuser used to say to me.  Take a moment to let that sink in: a fan of a fictional character was placing the imaginary feelings of that character above the feelings of a woman who was saying she'd been abused.  They were using the myth so helpfully perpetuated by EL James to tell me that maybe I hadn't actually been abused, because maybe my poor ex didn't know any better either.  If it was a lone comment, I'd dismiss it.  But I get comments like that - as does the Fifty Shades Is Abuse account - almost daily.  Several times a week, we get comments either on our Twitter, Facebook or website, or here on my blog, such as the following (all genuine):

"Ana could leave at any time.  She wants it, even when she says no.  No sometimes means yes."

"Christian only stalks and controls Ana because he really loves her.  Some men show it that way."

"Yes he's abusive.  Yes he stalks her.  Yes he manipulates her.  But none of that matters because Ana loves him and so he changes for her."

"BDSM is about controlling someone, whether they want it or not.  If they agree to be a sub, that's what they get."

"Are abusers not worthy of love?  Just because he stalks and threatens her, should we write him off?  He doesn't know any better!"

When we say that Fifty Shades normalises abuse (and abuse myths), we say it because we see it pretty much day in, day out.  Remember who these people are talking to; survivors of real-life abuse.  People who work professionally in the field, as Natalie does.  Real members of the kink community.  It doesn't matter whether it's "just a book" or not.  It matters that there are real people, with genuine concerns who simply want to have their voices heard, but are being shouted down by the book's author (who once had the gall to say that seeing abuse in her books does a "disservice to the women who really go through it," as though we aren't those women), the book's fans and members of the media.

Rebecca's piece then goes on to once again use horror films, suggesting that it's shocking that we've not complained about those, yet we complain about Fifty Shades.  Here's the thing, Rebecca:  Nobody is claiming that Saw is a love story.  No glossy magazine is running featured quizzes with headlines like: "Could YOU date Leatherface?"

And yet we have Cosmo, Glamour mag and a whole host of others touting a man who stalks, manipulates, coerces, threatens and controls as some kind of romantic ideal.  And we have women nodding their heads and accepting him as such.  We have an author, rubbing her hands with glee as she promotes sex toys and claims that her books have saved people's marriages.  When you get to that stage, it's almost laughable to wheel out the "but it's just a book, guys" line.

Rebecca ends her piece by suggesting that the "mock-shock" over Fifty Shades (having sobbed into my pillow after reading the worst experience of my life romanticised, my shock is definitely real) has nothing to do with wanting the best for women and in fact, simply shames them for having fantasies.

Except... It is about wanting the best for women.  I won't say too much on the non-shaming bit, because Natalie and I have spoken about this time and again (research - it's not hard!) and we're pretty clear that if any woman wants to enjoy Fifty Shades, we're not stopping them or judging them, we're just asking them to read it with a more critical eye.  All we've ever done is ask for a discourse on abuse.  To raise awareness that in reality, the behaviour Grey exhibits is inexcusable and abusive.  To make very clear that he is not an accurate representative of the BDSM community.  To talk about why we have such high abuse statistics (that is shameful) and how we can educate young people on the warning signs to look out for.

It's not an insult to anyone's intelligence to say that emotional abuse in particular isn't easy to recognise in reality.  I lived through horrendous emotional abuse and not once did I stop and think "this isn't right."  I simply thought: "He doesn't know any better.  If I keep trying to love him the right way, he'll change.  I can fix him."  And of course I couldn't.  He was an abuser, choosing to manipulate and control me.  He fooled not only me, but family and friends.  Because abusers aren't all billionaires with private helicopters, but they are all very good at pulling the wool over people's eyes.

We say that Fifty Shades Is Abuse because stalking is abuse.  Coercion (through alcohol or manipulation) is abuse.  Threatening to hit someone out of anger rather than sexual arousal is abuse (NOT BDSM).  Controlling someone's life when they've actively asked you not to is abuse.  And yet we're being sold these things as part of a love story and it's being accepted without question.  It's fine to fantasise about Christian Grey - whatever floats your boat - but real people are justifying abusive behaviour (as evidenced above) because it's been marketed and accepted as romance.  Not just in the books, but in the glossy magazines, on websites and by every fan who's taken the time to tell me that I don't know what abuse is and that I need a damn good slap for being such a bitch to Christian.  And by every fan who's told me that maybe I shouldn't have walked away from my "poor" ex.  That?  That's the normalisation of abuse in action, my friends.

Whilst we might stand in a small minority,  raising our voices against this phenomenally popular franchise, we stand nonetheless.  We stand because we have to.  Because abuse is frighteningly common (far more frightening than people campaigning against romanticising abuse in fiction).  Because we owe it to ourselves to stop blurring the lines of what is and isn't full, informed, freely given consent.  Because we deserve great erotica, with fantastic sex scenes, with all the sexy, brooding billionaires you can shake a stick at - without the emotional and psychological abuse.  We deserve a different narrative than the frankly tired "hey, love the damaged guy even though he treats you badly and who knows, he might turn from a frog into a prince if you try hard enough!"

All of which brings me back to the idea of "real life."  Yes, most of us should be able to separate fantasy from reality.  But recently, I spoke with a young woman and her words really struck a powerful chord with me.  She told me that she'd read Fifty Shades and soon after, she met a man who reminded her - with his tragic back-story of abuse and his rather possessive and controlling ways - of Christian Grey.  Having loved the book, she was thrilled when they entered into a relationship.  He abused her.  She couldn't work out where she'd gone wrong; why wasn't this turning into a "love story?"  After many months of blaming herself and excusing his behaviour because of his past, she eventually left.  She tried to read book 2 in the Fifty Shades trilogy, but found it so painful that she couldn't get past chapter one.

I am not - even a little bit - suggesting that all fans of EL James' novels are going to experience what this woman did.  But by normalising abusive behaviour and idealising an abusive man, we're only making things that bit harder for those who do.  We need to talk about abuse openly and we need to get rid of ridiculous myths about abusers not knowing any better or changing with the love of the right person, once and for all.  Only when we work on the facts, will it matter less what we put in our "romantic" fiction.  Until then, I will proudly speak out as part of the Fifty Shades Is Abuse campaign.

We're not prudes. We're not pro censorship.

And we're not going anywhere.

Friday 13 February 2015

Whatever Floats Your Boat...

Dressing up floats mine.  There, I said it.

There was a fantastic discussion on BBC Radio Humberside this morning, on Fifty Shades and the many, many issues some people have with it (myself included).  My awesome co-campaigner, Natalie Collins (literally, I couldn't love her more) was one guest.  Another was a real-life sub, Pixie, discussing how Fifty Shades misrepresents the BDSM lifestyle.  During the resulting discussion, Pixie said something that really stood out:  "We all have a little bit of kink in us."

I clapped at my phone, nodding furiously at the Listen Live webpage I had open in my browser.  Because yes.  Yes, we do.  And if you're outraged, eyes wide and hair standing on end, it might just be that you've not found (or admitted to) yours, yet.  Please don't shake your head in horror at that, because I'm not suggesting that you, dear reader, have a secret desire to be flogged or anything (although who knows, you might!).  The range of things different people enjoy in a sexual scenario is vast; from dirty talk to food in bed.  From handcuffs to role-play.  From simply dimming the lights and popping on a Barry White CD to turning the lights right off and keeping things distinctly "vanilla."  Because maybe "strictly vanilla" is a kink all of its own.

And that's the thing:  what people like is what they like.  It's a personal choice.  I can no more say "hey, you're wrong to eat mushrooms, because I think they're disgusting" than I can say "eurgh, you like something sexual that I would never, ever do and that makes you gross."

If we can accept that it's not our place to judge a person's taste in food, because it's so inherently personal, why do we feel it's acceptable to judge someone's sexual taste?

I ask, because I'm one half of the team representing Fifty Shades Is Abuse and the very first thing our critics usually throw at us is that we're prudish or anti BDSM.  And let me be very, very clear:  I am neither.

Pictured: Total prude.

It's a very dismissive attitude to suggest that because I'm referring to EL James' novel as romanticising abuse, that I am equating safe, consensual BDSM between two fully informed adults with domestic violence.  It's massively offensive and kind of makes my blood boil, to be honest.  Not once, not ever, have I suggested that BDSM is wrong, or should be judged.  I've actually been at pains to say the total opposite.

And yes, there are people who protest Fifty Shades purely because of the sexual content.  Those people do not speak for me.  They do not represent my views.

As far as I'm concerned, as long as whatever two people of legal age are doing is 100% consensual, safe and not breaking any laws etc, then who are we to judge?  If sex is a form of expression - whether of love or lust is besides the point - then why do we think it's our right to pour scorn on how one person chooses to express themselves?  Why is there one acceptable form of sex, whilst all others are judged?

This is a conversation that needs to be ongoing and requires much more time than I really have to devote to it this evening, but in light of accusations of being prudish, of trying to dictate what adults get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms and of being anti BDSM, I felt it was necessary to publicly state that in no way am I any of those things.  Nor is the Fifty Shades Is Abuse campaign.

For more information on myths spread about the aforementioned campaign (and the debunking thereof), click here.

In the meantime, whatever floats your boat...Go for it.  This girl won't be judging.

Thursday 12 February 2015

How Fifty Shades SHOULD Have Ended...

Last month, Cosmopolitan magazine ran a "fan-fiction" competition, trying to find the best Fifty Shades-inspired short story.  Needless to say, I am not a Fifty Shades fan, so my entry to their competition might not have been the hot, spicy piece of erotica they were anticipating.  Still, with today being the UK premiere of the Fifty Shades movie, I thought it was a good time to share my short story with you all.

And yes, the title was deliberately meant to make it sound like I might be a fan...  Well, how else would I convince Cosmo to read it?! ;-)

Laters, Baby

Double crap.  The soft click of the latch as I turn my key in the door is enough to start butterflies swarming in my stomach.  I grip on to Teddy's hand a little tighter.  He smiles up at me, with those big, grey-blue eyes - his copper hair glinting in the sunlight - and my heart sinks.  We're home.  I sigh and attempt to return Teddy's innocent smile.  He shouldn't have to know about any of this.

Christian is waiting in the hallway as we walk through the door.  Of course he is.  I glance at my watch.  We can't be late home; I was so careful!  I'm always so careful...

"What were you doing in Starbucks?"  He barks at me, his eyes alight with anger.

I force another smile.  "Starbucks?  Teddy and I went to the library, Christian.  I told you..."  Instinctively, I place one hand on my swollen belly and wrap my free arm around Teddy's shoulders.  protecting my children from their father was never something I expected to be doing in this "perfect" marriage of mine...

Christian rolls his eyes - a habit I have long since given up for my own good.  "I can track your cell phone, Anastasia," he says, through gritted teeth.  "I allowed you to go out without Taylor and this is how you repay my kindness?  With lies?!"

I squeeze Teddy's shoulders.  "Do you want to play in your room?"  As he rushes upstairs, I wonder how much of this he picks up on.  Too much, I'm sure.

"Now he's gone, you can tell me the truth."  Christian is pacing the floor now, running his long fingers through his hair.  I swallow hard as I look at him.  A man I once found so attractive, I simply refused to acknowledge his behaviour.  Everything about him was perfect in my eyes; his hair, his smile, even the way his pants hung from his hips, for crying out loud!  Now... I stare at the floor.

"I bumped into Kate in the library and she wanted to talk baby stuff.  She's due any day now, Christian.  And she's my best friend..."

"I thought you were dead."  Christian's eyes well up and he blinks rapidly at me.  I know this routine so well now that its effect on me has dwindled into nothing.

"You thought I was dead because I went to Starbucks?"  A bitter laugh escapes my lips before I can stop it.  Next thing I know, his hands are gripping my arms.  Holy shit.  I know better than that...

"You know what I've been through, Anastasia," Christian whines, continuing his act.  "Losing my mother, being an outsider, having Jack Hyde try his best to tear us apart...  How could you worry me like that?"  His grip on my arms is starting to hurt.  I glance down and notice my skin reddening beneath his fingers.

"I'm allowed to see my friends, Christian," I insist.  It's a lie of course.  With him, I'm not allowed to see anybody.  Not without his permission, first.  I sigh; once upon a time, I genuinely believed that he was trying to keep me safe.  All the false dramas seemed to justify the control he insisted on having over every aspect of my life.  I force myself to look into his eyes.  He really is fifty shades of fucked up.  "Kate hasn't seen me in six months, Christian.  My mom hasn't seen me in longer than that.  People are worried about me..."

Christian's nostrils flare as his grip on my arms becomes ever more uncomfortable.  "I do believe you're making my palm twitch..."

His words, which once sent desire throbbing through my body, send nothing but waves of revulsion up and down my spine.  I say one word.  A word he's not used to:  "No."

In one swift move, he has me against the front door.  "You do not get to say no to me," he hisses.  "You.  Are.  Mine."  Suddenly, with his face inches from my own, he begins to laugh.  "I love it when you stand up to me, Mrs Grey.  It gives me a chance to remind you of a few things."  With equal suddenness, he lets go of my arms and turns from me, pacing the floor and chuckling.  I glance down at the dark red fingermarks in my skin and I feel physically sick.

"I know where you are at all times," Christian says, breaking my thoughts.  He turns back to face me.  "I control your finances.  I know where every single member of your family and friends lives.  I can get you a job and I can lose you it just as fast."  The smile on his face has faded now and he's back to standing just inches away.  When I say you're mine, Anastasia Grey, I mean it.  And there's nothing you can do about it.  Do you understand me?"  His fingers gently tilt my head up to face him and his voice changes completely.  "I love you, that's all.  I want to protect you; you wouldn't be safe without me. And if my methods seem a little...unusual...well, it's hardly surprising, given the life I've led."  He leans in and kisses my lips.  My stomach heaves as I desperately fumble for the door knob behind me.  Christian breaks away and strokes a stray hair away from my face.  "You are mine."

The door swings open as I turn the handle behind my back.  Christian's eyes widen as he sees Taylor and Sawyer standing with Teddy, their faces etched with concern.  Genuine concern.  For me.  The thought swells my heart and gives me the courage to say what I need to.

"Not anymore."

I rush out of the house just as the police arrive to make the arrest.  I know that this is just the start of the battle - there will be enormous consequences to what I've done today.  But as I strap Teddy into the car and offer Taylor and Sawyer a grateful smile, I know that whatever mountain lies ahead, I am capable of climbing it,

I am free.