A quest for perfection turned Vironika Tugaleva into an urban legend.
I spent the better part of my life wanting to be perfect. When I was a kid, I had virtually no friends, so I had a lot of time to plan my incoming perfection, compare my lack of perfection to that of others, and bargain with a God I wasn’t sure existed about when and how I was going to get it. Though I grew up and learned that I would have to work to get what I wanted, I still never felt like I was perfect enough. One thing was for sure, though. One day, I knew I would, in fact, be perfect. And, I told myself, when that day came, I’d just flush all this overweight, overemotional, insecure garbage down the toilet. I’d get all new friends, change my name, and never, ever tell a soul about who I’ve been.
My past self would, likely, consider me a traitor.
What I’m about to tell you was supposed to get flushed down the toilet. It was supposed to disappear into the past. It was to be compartmentalized and filed away into the “never tell a soul, regardless of intoxication level” cabinet in my mind. If it came back to bite me, I was going to deny it and suddenly remember an appointment across town.
This is the story of my first love. The story of being a “Psycho Bitch From Hell.” A story I suspect my ex still tells to anyone who’ll listen. A story he’s probably gotten really good at telling. A story that’s probably so different now that I wouldn’t recognize it if I heard it.
So let me take a shot and give you my take on all of this. Because after years of listening to men talk about their Psycho Bitch From Hell girlfriends and swallowing hard, knowing I’d been there, I’ve never, ever met a woman who confessed to ever being one.
Statistically speaking, that’s impossible. Logically speaking, it makes perfect sense. Shame kills authenticity. Shame disables communication.
So allow me to confess.
Not to sound really cliché, but it really did all start out perfect.
I first met him in high school math class. He asked me for batteries. His CD player was, basically, an extra limb. He had long hair and ripped up jeans. He was in a band. I fell hard. Really hard. Like nothing else mattered.
And why wouldn’t I?
He was gorgeous. He was talented. He was funny. But, most importantly, being with him was the first thing in my entire life that felt that good. I’d never ridden a bike, had a french kiss, or jumped on a trampoline. Fifteen years old and shockingly inexperienced in the pleasures of life, love didn’t just take the cake; it took the whole damn bakery.
When I talked, he listened. When he talked, I listened. He thought my life was really interesting and I thought his was too. He made me feel things between my legs and he tasted really good. He told me I was beautiful. We would lie in bed and hold each other feeling this magnetic, powerful attraction between us. We would both talk about how good it felt. And it felt really good.
Being with him consumed me. Completely and wholeheartedly. It felt better than anything else. Everything else took a backseat to that feeling. Not that I had anything else going for me. I didn’t have any hobbies, interests, or passions. I spent most of my time neurotically obsessing over my food intake, watching TV, and writing angst-filled poetry.
Being with him felt so good that I wanted more and more. I never wanted it to stop. Being with him meant escaping from the world inside my head and the world inside my home. Being with him meant I never, ever had to feel pain. It was like that for a few years. Just pure painless bliss.
The thing about love is that it makes you forget everything else. There’s these magnets inside of us that compel us towards one another so that we can mate, love, and be happy. These magnets activate in people who have similar values and interests. These magnets activate in people who don’t. They activate regardless.
The thing about self-loathing is that you think it’s happening to everyone. You don’t know anything else. It’s like that with abuse, too. It’s like that with rape.
You don’t know until you know. You don’t know what the label is for what you’ve experienced until it suddenly surfaces in a conversation, movie, or article. You gulp down a dose of shame and think “Wow, they’re talking about me.”
I felt like that about a lot of things. I felt like that when I saw, at the bottom of an article I wrote for Good Men Project, a link to “In Defense of Psycho Bitches From Hell.” I definitely gulped down a whole lot of shame reading that.
I guess I was too good to be true, just like in the archetypal “psycho bitch” story. I guess I was misrepresenting myself. Because underneath all that beauty that he saw was a scared little girl with a mountain of baggage and a whole lot of pain. A girl I was convinced had died and gone when I met him so I would never, ever have to deal with her again.
The thing about love is that it doesn’t make you forget everything else forever. After a while, the mask peels back, the curtain lifts, the cracks begin to show.
The moments without him became torture. Being alone meant being alone with my thoughts. Being alone with my thoughts meant an endless tirade of insults. The more I tried to silence what was happening in my head, the more powerfully it came back. After a while, I began to have nightmares. Those nightmares flooded over into real life. I was a walking time bomb full of shame, fear, and loathing. And my only antidote was him.
I started getting really angry. Really angry when he wanted to do other things. Really angry when he wasn’t there. Really angry when he was there, but was doing something else, thinking about something else. Really angry when his presence no longer calmed the demons inside of me.
We started fighting. A lot. Over time, these fights escalated. I cried. He yelled. I threw things. He cut himself. I called the cops. He pinned me to walls. I ran away. He drank every night. I threatened to kill myself.
The more we fought, the more our love eroded. After a while, there was nothing left. No respect, no love, nothing. Either of us could do anything to the other and feel justified because we had memories as fuel. We ran straight into a point of no return. Then we passed that point and ran some more.
After I left, I continued face-first on a downward spiral. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I told people the story of my angry, asshole ex-boyfriend. They sympathized with me.
One of my ex’s friends used to call me on a regular basis. It wasn’t really him calling me. It was his phone. It was glitchy in this weird way where it would dial my number from his pocket. I would pick up, hear shuffling, and hang up. This would happen at least 3 or 4 times a week. This one day, months after we broke up, I picked up and was about to hang up as usual when I heard my ex’s voice. I froze mid-action horror to hear to him speaking to what sounded like a bar full of people. He was telling a story. The story of his psycho-bitch ex-girlfriend. A story that was exaggerated on my end and completely lacking in the role he played. I remember that feeling. The chest punch of embarrassment. The hot sting of anger in my cheeks. It didn’t feel good.
That feeling just fed my hatred for him. I would tell the story of my angry, asshole ex-boyfriend and add the story of the phone call. Just to accent how he wasn’t only an asshole, he was a liar too.
It was years before I saw how hypocritical I was. To see that I, too, was a liar telling an exaggerated story of my asshole ex. A story completely lacking in the role I played. It took years before the anger and hate died away and shame and regret set in. It took years before I faced my demons.
I remember the cold November night years later when I woke up in a cold sweat realizing, for the first time, that I had a part to play. Within a few minutes, I realized that I had a huge part to play. Half an hour later, I was convinced it was all my fault. An hour later, I was convinced that I was a monster.
I spent three days locked in my room with the lights off, refusing to speak to anyone. I played myself tapes in my head of what I said. What I did. What I felt. What I did to him. Regret was a five tonne weight that sat on my chest and slid around painfully when I tried to move. I didn’t move.
Somewhere around day two, I started having memories of my childhood. Memories of being hurt, insulted, and used.
I started to understand, for the first time, what was going on. I started to understand what was happening to me. The hunted becomes the hunter. Still, though I understood, I couldn’t forgive myself. I would try and try, but forgiveness didn’t come. I still felt like a monster. I felt like I had done horrible, unforgivable things to people that I could never, ever take back. Not just my ex, but other people I had exposed to my twisted self over the years. There were, and I’m sure still are, people out there who, at their worst moments, remember me. My words. My face.
I fervently apologized and made my amends. I begged for forgiveness. No matter how much forgiveness I received, I still felt the same. I started to lose hope. I started to feel like I would carry the weight of my mistakes with me forever.
By the middle of day three, I began to realize that, if I was going to forgive myself for doing terrible things, I’d have to not only apologize to those I had hurt, but I also had to forgive the people who did terrible things to me. And I did. It took time and tears, but I found compassion and I gave forgiveness.
And it helped. It helped me forgive myself.
You see, I couldn’t forgive myself for being a monster without accepting the fact that, perhaps, everyone, if put into certain circumstances, would act like a monster. I couldn’t give myself the room to have done and said awful things without also giving that room to every other living person. I couldn’t give myself compassion without also giving compassion to others.
Since that day, everything has been different. I lost all the Psycho. I lost all the Bitchiness. I left Hell.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that, when it comes to fighting monsters, compassion is the only way. It is the only way because every monster was once a frightened little child who was scared of monsters. But we don’t stay scared children forever. No one wants to be a victim forever. No one can live in shame forever.
It’s interesting that we are so willing to be kind to victims, but not to bullies. Every bully was a victim once. Maybe I’ll get a lot of flak for saying that. But I really believe it. Shame is the prerequisite to violence.
Forgiveness is hard. It is. But, if we fight hate with hate, that breeds more hate. If we douse hate in compassion, it can’t survive.
As for my ex, I saw him on the street about a year ago. His hair tied back, his jeans without holes, and a girl on his arm, we walked by each other with only a glance. Just as we passed each other by, I heard him say to the girl he was with “That’s her. That’s my ex I told you about. You know, the crazy one who … .”
And so I’m an urban legend. A statistic. A character in a story. A series of comma-separated adjectives.
While it hurts me to live as a monster inside people’s minds, I’ll be okay. I’m going to be fine because I’ve grown and learned and become a different person. With every day is a chance for me to do good in the world. I can’t ever erase what I’ve done, but I can seek to do better.
I can’t help but think about how my ex’s hate for me, how his Psycho Bitch From Hell story must be weighing him down. I can’t help but wish for him to forgive me. I wish that all the men out there with stories of crazy bitches like me would forgive us. Because so many of us are reformed and repentant now. Of course, some are still the same. All the while, all the Psycho Bitches From Hell in this world are just hurting, confused, and lost. So are all the Angry Assholes.
If you ever happen to get one in front of you again, I hope that you have the courage to listen, show compassion, and tell her that it’s okay to feel that way. That it’s okay to be hurt. That it’s going to get better. Compassion is the only way that people make it out of the cycle alive. In order to be mentally healthy, we have to heal. We can’t heal if we’re being called names. We can only heal with love, support, and understanding.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that… “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt like hell. But compassion is absolutely the only way that we can ever hope to live in a society where we can coexist in peace—as men, as women, as people. To forgive and love one another is, really, the closest any of us are going to come to perfection. And that, I’ve always thought, is a worthy goal.
I would like to personally thank Atalwin Pilon for suggesting that I write this story, title and all. He opened for me a door of opportunity which, at first sight, scared me out of my wits, but in the end sent me on a personal journey of vulnerability, acceptance, and healing that I’ll never forget. It is the mark of a true leader to challenge others to make leaders of themselves. Thank you, Atalwin, for inspiring and motivating me.
This post, and others in the Psycho Bitch from Hell series, has inspired Atalwin to create 2 Workshops in New York City around the themes of these articles. MORE INFORMATION HERE.
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