aloe like the plant

1. to treat a person with cruelty, especially regularly or repeatedly.
2. language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily
3. the systematic pattern of behaviors in a relationship that are used to gain and/or maintain power and control over another.

On March 31, 2015, I left my home in Santa Cruz and embarked on a surf trip through Central America and Mexico. I planned to fly to Costa Rica and travel up the Pacific Coast through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatamala, and Mexico, all the way back to Santa Cruz. My main goal was to surf. In addition, I planned to learn Spanish, learn about myself, and write about my experiences. I also had a hidden goal: to leave a relationship with a man I knew wasn’t right for me.

Have you ever tried to break up with someone only to be sucked back in? We lived together, had intertwined our friends, possessions, and routines. The strings of our lives seemed like a giant knot, impossible to untie. Just the thought of trying to untie it was overwhelming. I imagined a 6-month trip to a different hemisphere would be like a giant pair of scissors. It would cut the ties.

I broke up with the man on amicable terms and set a clear boundary: no contact. I needed some time apart before we could be friends. Two weeks into my trip, the videos I had posted to YouTube and personal files I’d stored on Google Drive suddenly vanished. As I struggled to understand why this had happened, I received an email from the man confessing he was the culprit. He had gained access to my password file and had been secretly monitoring my correspondence with all of my friends for the past month to make sure I was “ok,” he claimed. In the process, he had “accidentally deleted” some things, he said.

Though his actions violated my trust and privacy, they also helped me see that I had made the right decision in leaving him. I understood he was hurt about the breakup; it had only been two weeks since I’d left. So I changed my passwords. All 98 of them. I spent 2 hours on the phone with Google recovering lost files, 2 days uploading videos back to YouTube. I blocked the man on Facebook. I also noticed my Facebook stopped being “glitchy;” my friends stopped randomly disappearing. It could have been a coincidence.

What wasn’t a coincidence was the lengths the man went to circumvent the fact that I blocked him on Facebook. He created fake personalities, populated them with photos and posts. The first time, he messaged me directly. The account looked suspicious, with only a smattering of friends and photos, created just a few days before. I could tell right away it was him and blocked his fake personality as well. The second time, he put in more effort – over 300 friends and dozens of photos. He also capitalized on the fact that I had visibility set to “Friends of Friends.” I finally realized he was secretly viewing my activity through our mutual friends via another fake personality.

Meanwhile, he was still going strong with his real Facebook account.He sent friend requests to everyone in my circles. He contacted my friends and family on a daily basis, even going after new friends I’d met on my trip whom I mentioned on my blog – people he’d never met in person. Why would you want to be friends with someone you have never met before?

I realized I needed a chainsaw to break these ties, and I also realized something about myself. I had not talked about what I was going through because I was ashamed and embarrassed, for myself and for him. At that point, six weeks into my trip, I realized I had not even told my family the whole story.

“There’s something else I wanted to tell you that’s not on the blog,” I wrote to my grandparents. “My ex and I are not getting back together. We have been having problems the last few years mostly having to do with him being extremely jealous to the point that it was interfering with my friendships and I couldn’t be myself. Part of the reason I wanted to do this trip was to have some space. And since I left he has done some inexcusable things that have confirmed this feeling. I hope you understand and are not too disappointed.”

“He has pushed hard lately to establish a close relationship with us,” my grandpa replied. “Until your email, I didn’t have a clue as to how to respond. Now I can take a cooler view.”

Looking back, I can see I was suffering from the affects of his abusive behavior. I hid what was going on. I blamed myself. I was afraid my family would be disappointed in me for breaking up with him despite the boundaries he had crossed. Not to mention the distress from long unwanted emails I had clearly asked he not send.

Physically, I found an outlet in surfing. I sought out the most violent, powerful waves I could find. As I wrestled through the shorebreak and struggled underwater, I imagined myself fighting back against the unfair things the man was doing to me. Emotionally, I found an outlet in writing. I poured my heart into my blog, trying to find meaning in everything I experienced, and greater truths within myself.

“Good luck fucking your way thru Central America, maybe that’s what you should call your blog!!!!” he wrote in one of those long unwanted emails.

The words stung as they penetrated eyelashes stuck together with tears. I reread the blog post, Brown Sugar, that he’d referred to in his email. I’d written the post exactly one month into my trip and one month out of my relationship with him. Did I make it sound like I was sleeping with someone? Were guys I thought of as friends really just trying to put a move on me?

In fact, the man was the last person I had been intimate with. It felt awful to have shared my body with someone who treated me this way. And we’d already been broken up for a month, so why should it matter what I did? Guys go on trips all the time and have sex with people they meet. For the guys out in the lineup, it’s just another conquest in the surf trip story. Oh my god, I scored the best barrels. And there was this amazing Aussie chic I hooked up with. I found myself up against a double standard.

I thought back to a fight I’d had with the man a few months before we broke up, on the subject of my male friends. “All these guys just want to fuck you! And you know it. You love it. You’re just a fucking whore!” he yelled at me during the fight. That was the moment I knew I needed to leave. I thought 6 months would be long enough and 4,000 miles would be far enough. I was wrong.

Three times during May, June, and July, the man followed me to El Salvador and mainland Mexico, to places I had said I was going on my blog, during my planned time frame. Friends emailed to alert me of the dates the man would be there. I panicked and adjusted my plans. It could have been a coincidence.

But as I paddled out by myself in Mendocino last November and looked up in shock to see the man paddling out after me, it seemed too crazy to be a coincidence. The waves were not very good that day, there was no one else out, and I relished the idea of healing alone in the vast blue ocean. For me, it is usually a time of joy, calm, and solace. That day, I felt vulnerable and afraid. “You can surf anywhere in the world,” I yelled at him as I paddled in. “Why here, when I’m the only person out?!”

I had returned from my trip a month prior, but had not felt comfortable in Santa Cruz. I kept running into the man. Sometimes he would pursue me on the street, insisting we talk. I had been staying in Mendocino for about a month when he showed up, a full 5 hours away from Santa Cruz, and admitted he knew I was there. How would you feel, if you tried to get away from someone and they followed you? I felt like he was stalking me. A close friend urged me to get a restraining order. I thought it sounded dramatic. I was afraid it would make the situation worse; everyone would find out and think I was crazy.

Maybe I should try being more compassionate, I thought. After all, I had scarcely communicated with him in the 8 months since we had broken up, thinking if I just ignored him, the slanderous emails and tirades of text messages would stop. They had not. Things had escalated and gotten worse. So maybe I was doing something wrong.

I returned to Santa Cruz just before Thanksgiving and found my snowboarding equipment missing from where I’d stored it at my friend Brian’s house. I knew instinctively the man had broken into Brian’s house and stolen it. After our encounter in Mendocino, he had said I better get used to seeing him, because he planned on snowboarding with my friends that winter. While we were together, I had gotten him interested in snowboarding and introduced him to my circle of friends. Now it felt like he was trying to cut me out and take over.

Following my intuition, I sent him a short message. “I know you have my snowboarding gear. Please give it back.” The next day, I received a response from him. “You’re batshit crazy, AGAIN, your snowboard shit is not here. I would never hold onto your snowboard shit just to spite you, you know me better than that, I don’t wish you any harm, negativity or stress, it’s actually the last thing I want for you.”

Has anyone ever made you feel like you are literally going crazy? I wrestled with paranoia, unable to sleep. Since I couldn’t sleep, I wrote. I did not write about what the man was doing to me, because I had fallen into a pattern of hiding it. He was underneath the anxiety and depression which had been plaguing me since I returned home. So I wrote about those feelings, in a post called Coming Down. Writing gave me the courage to face him. I hoped it would end the madness once and for all.

I went over to his house and knocked on the door. He seemed happy to see me. We walked down to the beach and talked for three hours. I summoned compassion in my heart. Finally, he confessed to breaking into Brian’s house and stealing my snowboarding gear. He apologized and returned it. I said I forgave him and I did my best to do so.

I thought the nightmare was finally over and we could coexist peacefully. But his overtures intensified. I continued to receive long emails and text messages from him frequently. In addition to introducing him to snowboarding, I had also shared my favorite surf spots with him. He showed up regularly and parked next to me as I suited up to go surf. I told him it was too much. I tried to set boundaries for communication, to compromise on where I surfed so we could maintain a range of space. But the barrage continued. Eventually, I blocked him on my phone and rerouted his emails to a place where I wouldn’t have to see them. All the while wishing things did not end up like this.

Hesitantly, a year after our split I started dating again. Someone I was interested in invited me to go surfing and we went to check the Hook. My ex was just coming up the stairs and made a beeline straight for us. He introduced himself to my date, asked his name, and struck up a conversation. “What a nice guy!” my date exclaimed afterwards. I felt sick.

As my resentment toward the man grew, I confided in my friend Bre. “What’s the lesson he is here to teach you?” She urged me to find meaning. Her wisdom is one of the things I have always loved best about her. I heeded her advice, and looked to the teachings of the Dalai Lama: Perhaps we don’t have any enemies, just teachers. I wondered if the Dalai Lama had ever dealt with a breakup gone horribly wrong.

The man also urged me to look for patterns, in an email sent February 15, 2016, nearly a year since we’d broken up. He said he was going away for awhile. “I’m sure when I return that you will have a new surfer dude you’re fucking, actually probably fucking one now as I write this, you already went through at least two of them on your trip, took you less than a month to move right onto some douchebag from Nicaragua who probably fucked endless white tourist chicks just like you, just a notch in his belt, then another in Mexico. So when I return I will probably get the displeasure of seeing you with some other kook everywhere I surf and eat, just like all your ex boyfriends got to see us, that list will grow also. Patterns Aloe, patterns.”

The cruelty in his words was obvious and potent. However, I fixated on the concept of patterns. What was the real pattern, the lesson I needed to learn from this? One morning, as I woke up in the cold darkness, the answer appeared, stark naked and plain as day.

As a child, I was physically and emotionally abused. I was spanked, slapped, spit on, called a slut, woken up in the middle of the night and beaten. My childhood was stained with fear of when it would happen next and the shame of feeling like I had done something to warrant the abuse. I hid what was going on from my friends, family, teachers and neighbors. When the police and child protective services became involved, I lied to protect my abuser. Eventually, I ran away. I moved from Southern California to Northern California to live with my aunt.

“If you really didn’t want to ever see me why on earth would you move back to Pleasure Point?” the man asked rhetorically in the February email. “I’m not telling you this to hurt you or piss you off but I’m not the only one who wishes you would disappear, that list is growing bigger here on the Point and not because of me but because of you.”

Abuse is not always physical. It can be emotional and psychological, used to control another person and gain power over them. I could see the psychological abuse injected into his statements, the intent to convince me people hate me and make me feel unwelcome in my own home. I had thought of leaving Santa Cruz for good. However, I didn’t want to abandon the network of friends, family, waves, yoga, and the feeling of home I had built over the past ten years. I also did not want to continue the pattern of running away from someone who mistreats me; of putting up with harassment, intimidation, and abuse; of accepting it as if it is something I deserve, something I have invited and asked for.

There is a wave up north I am totally obsessed with and surf as often as I can. Since I am single, I sometimes joke the wave and I are in a relationship. “He’s abusive, but I keep going back,” I say with a laugh, referring to the rough underwater beatings I submit to when I fall or get caught inside. When I plunge off of the ledge into certain annihilation, I almost always have a huge smile on my face. Sometimes I wonder if what I went through as a child has anything to do with the types of waves I seek out. Patterns Aloe, patterns.

When I was 12, I finally told my family about the abuse I had been suffering throughout my childhood. Have you ever unearthed a secret which has been swept under the rug? For me, it was a terrifying experience. However, after it was out in the open, the abuse finally stopped. Four years later, a therapist helped initiate a phone call with the person who had abused me. “What do you want to get out of this?” the therapist asked, prior to the phone call. I wanted this person to admit what they did to me, to understand how profoundly I had been affected, and to apologize in a meaningful way. I got what I wanted. Since then, this person has spent twenty years continuing to apologize through mindful action. Together, we have rebuilt a relationship based on love, trust, and forgiveness.

The man has apologized many times for the things he has done. However, I’m a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. Continued abuse is not an action of apology.

I believe there is good and bad in all of us. Perhaps part of the reason I have concealed the ways in which I have been hurt is I believe in the goodness of those who have hurt me. And I know bringing it out into the open will hurt them.

Ignoring something does not make the pain, frustration, and confusion go away. It makes everything fester, like an untreated wound or a piece of rotten fruit. My hope in writing this is not to convince anyone this man is a bad person; it is to release what has been rotting and festering inside of me, the patterns which have permeated my life and restrained me. I hope I will be set free. I hope others will be set free.

I am not blameless, or perfect. Every day, I strive to understand my own imperfections, to grow, to heal, to make space for positive things in my life. In freeing myself from a pattern of abuse, I create space within myself for love, trust, and forgiveness.

Bre is right, there is a lesson to be learned from all of this. I will not run away from someone who mistreats me; will not put up with harassment, intimidation, and abuse; will not accept it as if it is something I deserve.

There’s only one situation in which I will tolerate abuse: when it’s something I’ve invited and asked for. I will plunge off of the ledge with a huge smile on my face and submit to the wave, my most precious teacher.

5 thoughts on “Patterns

  • Posted on September 5, 2016 at 7:57 am

    I had a boyfriend for about a year or so who grew up surfing in Santa Cruz (Shannon Stanger) and knows everybody. During our relationship and when we broke up and after we broke up (because he was cheating!) called me a cunt and a whore all the time, accused me of fucking every guy that he saw me talking too, told me he would decide when we broke up not me, and also that nobody in this town would ever date me and I would never have another boyfriend again. A lot of stalking and harassment also occurred, but I got through it all with time and I now feel comfortable doing normal things like walking around the point. And I have a really nice boyfriend who has never in almost 3 years called me a bad name or spoken to me in a mean tone. Best wishes on your healing journey, you and all women who have to go through this sadly common type of behavior.

    • Posted on June 15, 2020 at 10:21 am

      So true Aimee, and I’m sorry you wasted that year. It’s also so true that there are still decent men out there and am happy to hear a success story that moved on from that toxicity.

      • Posted on January 11, 2021 at 8:08 pm

        Hugs Jen miss you! Hope you are well.

  • Posted on March 5, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    What a beautiful, open and honest essay. This must have been so difficult to write, and so powerful in the healing process. I love you!

  • Posted on March 5, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Aloe. As I read your post I was returned back to the crazy and helpless feelings I felt when I was with a man who was emotionally abusive. I questioned my own sanity and perception after being harassed, told I was crazy over and over, told no one liked me, how everyone laughed at me, how lucky I was he stuck around because no man would ever like me, etc. He stabbed holes in my surfboards with a knife, broke into my house, broke my windows, sat in my yard in the dark until 3AM while I sat inside in the darkness pretending I wasn’t home. I ate dinner under a blanket with a flashlight some nights and parked my car a block from my house. I felt terrorized. We broke up several times but he would not go away and I wanted to have faith in him as a human being. It never got better but only worse each time. I sunk so low I didn’t even recognize myself. I felt isolated and questioned the truth of his statements meant to break me. They eventually did. He was a well liked surfer here in town and was part of the surf scene. He threatened me that he was the one who decided when we broke up, not me and that if I tried I better leave town because this was his town and he would make sure everyone knew how crazy I was that I would never be able to surf here again. He threatened to kick my ass. In hindsight, I see how ridiculous that was, but in my nightmare I couldn’t see clear anymore. I hid this for a long time because I was ashamed, as you were, and how do you really explain the things going on that do SEEM crazy. Plus, he was a popular figure in the surf community and I didn’t think people would believe me because he did not act like this in front of anyone. I heard over and over what a nice guy he was. I finally did tell a couple people and was met with skepticism and pity. They didn’t believe me, I could see it in there faces like what really had happened was a ‘misunderstanding’ and I was over reacting. I was crushed. I withdrew from everyone and felt very alone. I took a while but I finally gathered up my courage and remembered who I used to be. I made plans to move while he was out of town. I hid for many months. It’s sad it came to that but I really felt I had no other choice. It could of been stopped early on but I wanted to believe the best in people too and I betrayed myself in favor of seeing the best in someone else. Its been several years now and I am more like my old self, but I am changed permanently. I was affected by the whole experience profoundly. The worst of it was how I’d let myself down. Before this happened, I looked at women in the same situation and found them weak and questioned why they put up with it. I never ever guessed I’d be one of them. When you are the victim of abuse…..things happen inside you that are hard to explain. The abuse cuts in invisible ways and you are left wounded in ways people can’t understand. It makes you feel powerless. Powerless in your own life. But we are grown now and we don’t have to be powerless. As kids, we coped in inventive ways because we were powerless and at the mercy of the adults around us. I was neglected as a child and lived in chaos in a very unstable family. I was on my own since I was tiny and felt like I hid from the world in order to find find my own stability. I was very independent as a result but also had vulnerabilities I wasn’t aware of until they became front and center. Amazing what you learn about yourself after things in your life take a nose dive.
    What worked for me was complete no contact. Complete. The man in your life you’ve told us about has shown his hand. He has shown you who he is. He may have good qualities and maybe he can’t get control of his own life right now, he may not be evil, but these are his issues right now. This is his present, and I’m sure he is struggling with his own stuff. But just like me, and you….he has to face his own issues and seek help if he can’t get control of his own actions. Your job is to take care of you and always be in your own corner. It sounds like you are seeing that. The best you can do for you and him is to have NO contact at all. It may take not going to the places you like for a while. That sucks, I know, but if it leads to more peace in your life it’s worth it. Don’t read his emails. Block them. Block phone numbers. Maybe stay off Facebook for a while. It’s not letting him win…..its taking back your life. I stayed and fought for a while saying to myself “you can’t drive me from my own house and my life” but the more I engaged and stood my ground, the more it fueled him. I had to disengage completely. And that meant finding new paths and places in my life. He eventually moved on. I see him here and there now and we are amicable but I keep it minimal. I am wise now. Wise in ways I never knew. My voice was always there, I just quit listening for a while. Listen to your voice. This is what worked for me and maybe you’ll find its something that’ll work for you, maybe not. Im not an expert but just wanted to share that I understand how you feel. Sorry this is so long. It brought up some emotions I hadn’t seen in a while and I just wanted to reach out and express my support and say hang in there. It gets better.


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