**Trigger warning if you read the linked article because she talks about abuse.**
I read this article after noticing it because of its title. And boy did it hit home. I will link it here so you can read it if you want to before going on to read about why it was so important to me.
“MY BOYFRIEND WAS ABUSIVE — AND I DID NOT REALIZE UNTIL AFTER WE BROKE UP”
Timing is everything. And it is sort of ridiculous that this week is when that article posted and when I saw it to read. Except for the actual boyfriend part and some of the boyfriend’s anger, this is me. SO me. Well…so much the Girl in the Corner. All through high school and not with a titled “boyfriend,” but certainly someone I really thought I wanted to be my boyfriend. He let me believe that is what he wanted too, because if he let me believe that, it made it easier to abuse me.
Allow me to go back a few weeks and say that I am really, really struggling with this group therapy this time. I need and want to focus on this relationship which shaped so much of what I have felt about myself and how I responded to everyone around me throughout high school and since 2012. But I victim-blame myself on this relationship SO much, that I am consistently failing to stay engaged in group. I begin minimizing my experience and feelings the second group begins and I punish myself with put-downs for taking up space for a “real” victim. I know it is silly because the group members and the facilitators would never want me to feel that way, and we always discuss that exact feeling when groups begin. It is common to feel that someone’s situation may be “worse than” and so victims begin to minimize their own experience as not as bad and, therefore, not as worthy of help. Ridiculously sad.
So I’ll return to high school now.
The very first time this guy finally showed me some attention was one night when I was having a sleepover and he knew it. He told me how much he and his friends just wanted to have some fun and that we should sneak out to party with them. And at that point, I would have done just about anything he said to get his attention. So we did.
As we got to the woods where everyone was partying, I was happy. Happy to finally have his attention. And all of us had fun for a while, but there was a few times I just felt it. And by IT, I mean that gut feeling that was trying to say “not ok, get away, this isn’t right, he is a jerk” and “you are worth more than this.”
Sometime during the night we were all by a pond and most people were stripping off their clothes to go swimming, including him. And here’s the thing about that–no way was I doing that. Not because I couldn’t or wouldn’t get naked, but it was dark out and I don’t like fish touching me so I’m sure as hell not getting in the water in the dark at that point.
That’s a whole other issue for another time.
In any case, I was more than happy to hold his clothes and laugh and have fun with a few people who didn’t last long in the water. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but I did smoke cigarettes at that point so I just hung out and smoked. Later, back at the area where everyone hung out, there was a tent. And when he asked me to go in that tent, I was happy, just like the girl explains at the beginning of that article. Happy to have attention from someone I liked so much. I was so excited that he was showing me attention and I was thrilled that he was taking me in this tent for what I thought would be some kissing. And he made it clear very quickly that he was interested in more than that. And I completely froze. I had NO idea what was happening and NO experience in dealing with it. And, again, just like in the article, the next day or the next weeks at school he was so distant and acted like he didn’t know why I wanted to leave that night when I finally said “take us home.”
Given some time, he was right back to flirting and calling and showing me attention. And he made it seem like what happened was no big deal, so I just moved on without giving it much more thought.
In the article linked above, the following quote hit me so hard I had to read it again and again:
This is the hardest thing to explain: I really liked him. So when he turned on me, it felt so insane that when he was normal again, I’d forgive the crazy behavior — and then do everything to prevent it from happening again.
Now, unlike the article, he never yelled or threw things at me. But he was mean. So very mean. He would say really rude things to me and treat me like crap if other people were around him and just generally disrespect me. He would say such awful things and I always felt a level of humiliation being around him, but I didn’t know what to do to get away from him and just as I would decide he was horrible, he would say loving, wonderful, fun things and I would forget everything else.
He would call me and apologize and say wonderfully nice things to get me to come over to his house or pick him up. And we would go places or do the things he wanted and needed to do in my car because he didn’t drive. It always felt like a mixture of fun and torture to be with him. He would always try to talk me into sexual stuff. Sometimes putting me down until he got what he wanted. I would laugh things off uncomfortably and tell him I hated him. But I did things he wanted to do most of the time. He humiliated me on a regular basis into having sex with him.
Two other quotes came at me like slaps to the face from the above article…
It didn’t feel forced, but it certainly didn’t feel good.
I was so deep in the relationship that I didn’t have words for how I felt.
WHAT IN THE HELL WAS I THINKING????? The blame the guilt the yuck just comes at me from all over my head and all over the things people say about girls “like me.” Girls like me. I felt that my choices were what made me into that girl. A girl who felt SO MUCH SHAME on a regular basis, but didn’t really know why. A girl who became mean and confrontational and just generally not nice to people she identified as better off than her. Which was pretty much everyone around me outside of my close friends.
I didn’t understand why I felt so terrible being with him because I could only see the worth he allowed me to feel and to believe. Which was tiny.
Fast forward now to last week in my group therapy and the topic of anger. We did an exercise that I laughed through because that’s what I do to avoid and cover when I can’t cope. When I feel blame and guilt for my own sexual assaults. When I feel unworthy of the free therapy and the healing and the love and support all around me. Healing is difficult, exhausting, frustrating work. But the anger exercise broke me. I threw the word consent out as confusing and as something that makes me so angry when focusing on this past rape.
Because I liked him. Because I wanted to be around him. Because I said yes, I’ll go with you and drive you, and I NEVER SAID NO. I would shutdown and say nothing when he humiliated me to the point where I would just “let” him have sex with me. And when I would “let” him, he showered me with attention and fun. He built me up just enough to feel worthy of his time and attention, so that I would be around the next time he called.
And as I said those things to the group, the room went silent. And the facilitator said…”humiliation is not consent.”
And then she just let me sit there with that feeling. And in that silent moment I did not laugh.
It was the moment I cried.
I can guarantee you that this moment was only the second time IN MY LIFE I have cried over the realization of how horrible this person was to me. I let that out on the side of a road one other time, with a friend who I had called to come and sit with me because I was sure I would never stop crying and was going crazy. It was the first moment I cried that led me to this second moment last week as I cried all over again. This time with the complete realization that it was NOT my fault. That he was the one in the wrong. That he KNEW very well what he was doing all those times.
That liking or loving or desiring someone is NOT equal to giving consent. Humiliation is not loving. It is wrong.
The first moment I cried empowered me. And that was in 2012. That year I had contact with this guy for the first time since 1996 and it was a mess. But I’ll talk about that another time.
For now, what is important is that being contacted by him brought me to healing. Brought me to try EMDR. To become aware of who I was and how that made me into who I am today. I won’t thank him and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive him, but I do recognize that from pain came knowledge and healing. I’ll say again, I won’t thank him. He gets ZERO credit.
That first moment that I cried brought me to my second moment.
I did the work. I recognized that the work needed to be done. I took back control of my emotions and my body and my life.
The last quote, which I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE from the linked article is this:
It’s funny to hear the word empowered when where you’re coming from a place of zero power. I’m just trying to get mine back. People talk about survivors like we have an extra coat of armor when really we’re just trying to grow back our skin.
I’m doing the work and I’m finding my power. And it sucks and it is really difficult. I want to give up most days.
But it is also awesome and freeing and wonderful. And I cherish the opportunity I have been given to find healing.
And you know what else I really cherish??
The moment I cried.