I am watching Bad Vegan right now, about Sarma Melngailis and her former husband Anthony Strangess. A man who conned her and her family, her investors, out of millions of dollars by transforming a bright beautiful talent into his victim.

Lots of people want to talk about how she should have known, she should have walked away, she could have left, but they don’t understand what comes from the deep psychological trauma that comes from being abused, because they think that “abuse” always leaves bruises. Not all bruises are bruises you can see.

Up until three months ago I would name off a list of abusers as long as my arm, and I would swear to you straight in the eye, I thought I was in love.

None of my abusers asked me to love them, but they all expected that I would, it wasn’t a decision I made. I didn’t stop and think about all the good things that these people had done, I thought about how afraid I was of them.

Every single person from my past 3D real-life was someone who at some point took advantage of me or my inability to stand up for myself at some point. That’s not love. It’s manipulation.

I thought I loved them because no one had ever shown me what love really meant. It means work, it means a partnership, safety, protection, and consideration. It means that someone cares about your welfare. In the many cases that I thought I was in love, I was being abused. – Devon J Hall

From the outfits I wore to work, to my nails and hair, everything I did was about impressing the people who abused me, just so that I could get the tiniest bit of kindness from a community filled with narcissistic abusers.

I was not prepared for a life where I had to learn to distrust everyone I meet, but public figure or not, every single person I meet is someone to be distrusted until they prove otherwise. These days if you want my love you have to earn it, you have to prove to me you deserve it, because every time I’ve offered love to someone, it was someone who had power over me.

Love shouldn’t be about power. It should be about communication, protection, success, struggle, challenge, hope, and joy. Love, in all its various forms, is about building something with another person. It’s something that you have to consciously decide that you want in your life, but when you’ve been abused, it’s completely different.

In this film, Sarma says that any sexual relationship wasn’t one she wanted, which to my ear means that whether she wanted to say the word or not she was coerced. And unless you’ve been coerced into doing things you don’t want to do, you have absolutely no idea what that kind of abuse can do to you.

I’ve orgasmed during rape before, but it’s not because I enjoyed it, it’s because deep psychological conditioning taught me how to turn rape into something pleasurable so it’s less harmful to my brain. A psychologist might tell you that sounds psychotic, but a psychiatrist will tell you that’s exactly what the brain does.

Why did you LET it happen? Why Didn’t You Say Something? Why didn’t YOU get help? Don’t you KNOW better?

In the documentary, Sarma talks about the moment she realizes that he’d left her alone, the moment that Anthony had decided she was no longer of use.

He used gaslighting – a technique that is used to break down your victim until they can’t say no any longer, because you condition them to believe they can ONLY trust you and no one else in the world.

When my friends would ask about the bruises on my body, my one and only boyfriend told everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, I like rough sex, the rougher the better. When I tried to deny this, I paid for it later, by the very thing he knew I hated. So much so that I began to play into it until he no longer wanted to have sex with me. At that point, I’d been so viciously tortured by violent rape that the worst he could do was leave bruises on me. I played into it until I forgot I was playing, and eventually became the perfect victim.

While my situation is vastly different from Sarma’s, I understand perfectly how one who is overwhelmed and scared and alone, can fall in love so deeply, that they will do anything to protect their abuser. Even and especially when the abuser knows how to hit you without ever leaving a mark.

The kind of abuse that comes with the psychological is the worst. Sarma admits that she had a moment where she could have left him on the side of the road, but she chose not to, and I get that. I felt that so much.

There was a time the boyfriend left and I felt at peace, I was happy, so I went out to a party and I had a great time. When I turned around to come home, he was waiting for me because he knew exactly where to find me.

He’d been waiting for me, and I took him home because taking him home was easier than saying no. It was always easier than saying no, but these last few years I’ve been at home relaying all the thoughts in my head out loud. Talking to myself about people that I used to love, reciting over and over again “I love them,” hearing the lie in those words because I needed to say it over and over again until I could ask “why?”.

That was never a question I asked before, and it turns out that it was one of my abusers who forced me to think about it. This was a man who’d whored me out for an eightball of coke one night, who asked me why I loved yet ANOTHER man who had allowed me to be abused. I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t.

I didn’t leave because I wanted to. I left because I went to one of my rapists to see the look on his face when I told him I knew he had raped me. I went back 3 fucking times. To repeatedly say the same words, to try and make sense of it, willing to take them back if they could just have explained why they did it.

Three times they threatened my life if I returned again, and by the third time, I was free. But I still wasn’t safe. I knew what they did, they knew I knew, and retribution would have been around the corner if I hadn’t done what I did.

Realizing You NO LONGER love your ABUSER is one of the most FRIGHTENING discoveries…because then You HAVE to think about getting AWAY from your abuser…And That Requires Planning – Devon J Hall

Everything would have been fine if I had kept my mouth shut, one of my rapists said that during my “I’m going to face you down and we’re going to deal with this” bouts of self-confidence. That was the key that I needed to unlock the door. That was the day that in my head, I started Loud Mouth Brown Girl.

Yes, in some way we all know what we were doing. I knew I was hanging out with gangsters, but I had convinced myself and they helped, me to believe that I was safe, that I was somehow special to them. The truth is that no one is special to an abuser. You aren’t special because they can abuse you, you’re special because you exist, period.

But abuse, in all its various disgusting and horrendous forms, can destroy everything about you. Many people think that you have to love your abuser to stay with them, but sometimes it’s not about love at all. Sometimes it’s because you’re being abused, pure and simple. I didn’t love a single one of the men in my past life, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know how to love them. I just knew saying the words made the abuse hurt less.

Each of them abused me in a variety of ways, the conditioning was real, they were taught how to condition me, and I was ready to do what they told me to because I had already learned to be afraid of them. I was in survival mode and I didn’t know it. Do you know how many times cutting my hair was a genuine act of rebellion because I’d been told directly not to?

“I think I’ve TRAINED Myself to be optimistic because I HAVE TO” – Sarma Melngailis

That fucking part. I understand that I am not happy and positive because I want to be, I am happy and positive because if I am not then I will break down and cry.

I get these words to my core because I have done the same thing. I have trained myself to believe that it’s going to get better because I had to put my entire story out there to secure my safety and I know that if anything happens to me, people will know exactly where to look.

That’s not happiness, that’s survival mode.

I don’t want Sarma to just survive this, I want to see her take this experience and thrive, I want her to succeed, because unlike Anna Sorokin or Elizabeth Holmes, Sarma wasn’t making her own decisions, she was having her decisions made for her, and when her back was turned at every turn her husband, by all accounts a man who had promised to take care of her, destroyed her life in favor of his gambling addiction. It must be said, Sarma wasn’t the only woman Anthony Strangess conned into believing his lies.

In the film, the story also talks about how he and his father broke into his ex-wife’s house in order to steal and pawn her family’s jewelry. Men like this are a dime a dozen, and that’s why yes women do need to be smarter, but if at the end of the day men, in particular, could just stop being abusive douchbags that’d be really great.

Sarma’s problem wasn’t love, she’ll admit this, she didn’t love him, she believed in him. She trusted him, she had a thriving career, a great group of friends, and a life before him and she’ll have one after. The kind of life she has is entirely dependent on what she decides to do, but my guess? She’s going to turn the world on its ass again and do something amazing because that’s what phenomenal women do.

In this particular case, as much as I’m tired of white women being documented for making huge massive mistakes I’ll say this: Sarma wherever you are, I hear you. I hear all the things you are not saying, and I understand perfectly why you didn’t drive off that night. It took me a while to leave too, but you can do this and I eagerly anticipate your next chapter.

Sending all my love,

Devon J Hall

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