I feel compelled to share my story for two reasons. One, because I am tired of being quiet; I have been suffering in silence for a very long time and I want to be heard. And two, in hopes that it will help somebody, because I believe a lot of people find themselves in similar situations and do not know how to deal with it. Often times when we think of abuse, a woman with a black eye comes to mind. When we think of sexual assault, we often imagine a man jumping out of the bushes at night and tying you up. The truth is that lots of abuse is a lot quieter and less evident to those on the outside, and the victim suffers alone because they fear nobody will believe them. I have been suffering with mental illness since a traumatizing relationship I was in when I was in high school, and I am done being quiet about it. For years I kept it a complete secret because I was ashamed and also afraid of my parents finding out because I knew it would break their hearts if they knew everything that happened to me. But I am tired of feeling like a victim. I want to take my power back by telling my story and not being ashamed of having a mental illness; it is part of who I am and it has made me into the strong, empathetic person I am today. I am a survivor, and I want to spread awareness of emotional abuse and “non-stereotypical” sexual abuse.
I am a 22 year old recent college grad with a degree in Mass Communication and a film minor. I work at a local radio station and live in an apartment with my wonderful boyfriend and our corn snake, Penelope. I love animals, film, yoga, horror, food, the internet and about a million other things. I am a very bubbly, positive, empathetic person. I often hear things like “I’ve never seen you in a bad mood” or “You are always smiling” or “You’re so chill”. Although very nice sentiments, hearing things like that makes me laugh out loud, because ever since I was in 10th grade I have been living with severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD. For years I went on believing that my problems stemmed from a combination of genetics and the trauma of my mother falling extremely ill when I was a kid (she’s totally okay now, thank god). Although that was a horrible time in my life, about two years ago I discovered that it wasn’t the true root of my issues.
I was seeing a new therapist at the time, and still in the getting-to know-you-phase. I was telling her about a difficult relationship that I was in when I was in high school, one that I chose to push towards the back of my mind. Now I know that the experience was so traumatic that my brain actually changed some of the memories from it, and blocked out as much of it as it could so the whole experience was always very foggy to me. After recalling to her as much of the story as I could remember, she looked at me and said “You know that you have PTSD, don’t you?”. Even though it was years after my traumatic experience, that was the beginning of my recovery process. This is the (as brief as possible) story I told her:
I was in 10th grade when everything started. I was confused, had pretty low self esteem and was anxious to please people. I didn’t know who I was and had fallen into the habit of being a “serial dater” because having a boyfriend was easier to me than being alone. Always dating someone during a time where I was developing as a person hindered my independence and confidence a great deal. This point in my life was one of the few times I was single. I met a guy who was in choir with me and we started talking. He was friendly and talkative and so was I, so we became acquaintances. Eventually, he started asking me to hang out (as friends). For whatever reason I was kind of apprehensive so I avoided it for a while. He kept asking me however, and I am the type of person who had a really hard time saying no to someone, so eventually I agreed. After being around him in school more I noticed that this person was pretty unpopular, even amongst his friends. A lot of people didn’t like him because they said he was conceited and just plain mean. A lot of my friends expressed their disapproval of him, but I assured them that we were just casual acquaintances.
However, he started to talk to me a lot more and I occasionally would agree to go for walks with him (we lived close to each other). At the time it seemed really casual. The more we talked, the more he began to confide in me about his life. His father had passed away, his brother had issues with substance abuse and his family had money troubles, so to say the least he had a difficult life. I am a very sensitive, empathic person and I began to feel very sorry for him. I think that by listening to him and giving him advice, I gave him the attention that he rarely got from other people. Because of this I started to get very sucked into his life and his problems, and I began feeling completely obligated to hang out with him, like it was my responsibility to help him.
One day out of the blue he walked up to me in the middle of my street and kissed me. Sounds romantic I know, but it was incredibly uncomfortable because I absolutely did not have feelings for him. To make a very long story short, things progressed to the point where we basically were dating. I was very confused and conflicted because on one hand I did like the security of having him and we did have some things in common, but on the other hand, deep down inside me I knew that I did not want to be with him. To put it simply, he was a complete dick. He was extremely manipulative, very good at making me feel bad about myself and always seemed to isolate me from my friends. He always criticized my friends and I found that the more time I spent with him, the less time I spent with them. He was very emotionally unstable and anytime I said something that he didn’t like he would start freaking out or even crying. He was constantly criticizing me and making fun of me. He was the type of person who would say something cruel and then say “It’s just a joke! You know I’m a dick and I always make jokes like that.” I began to believe that I must just be overly sensitive. I started questioning my own thoughts and feeling like I was the one who was crazy. Just to give you an example, the last time I saw this kid maybe two years ago, one of the first things he said to me was “I was looking through your Facebook and I was like damn, she got fat!”. In my head I thought, thank you for giving me a reminder of why I hate you.
Our relationship started to progress sexually, even though I so much did not want it to. In the back of my mind I knew getting involved with him was a bad idea, I just felt trapped and afraid to upset him. He started to bring up the idea of us having sex, and my immediate reaction was hell hell hell no. It seemed like such an outlandish suggestion to me; I did not feel ready at the age I was (15-16) and he was not the person that I wanted to have my first time with. But he kept asking me and asking me. Every time I told him that I didn’t want to, that I wasn’t ready to lose my virginity, but he kept pressing it. Then he proposed that we do it for “just a few seconds” and it “wouldn’t count”. Eventually I gave in, so we did it just for a few seconds, at first. He kept wanting to do it, and each time it would get a little longer. A few seconds turned into thirty seconds, which turned into a minute, which turned into five minutes. I remember always saying “this doesn’t count, I’m still a virgin” because I so badly did not want to do it with him. I always beat myself up for letting it happen, and I know that a lot of people would say “you could have just said no”. I just didn’t feel like it was that easy. I felt manipulated, coerced, and backed into a corner. His volatile nature made me feel like I was walking on eggshells with him. I was never afraid he was going to hurt me, but hurting himself or just doing something crazy was always a concern. His life was always so filled with drama I felt like he was always on the verge of having a freak out. So I let it happen because it just seemed like the easier thing to do.
After we got up to almost ten minutes, he said “You know you’re not a virgin anymore, right?”. My heart sank because I knew he was right. I guess at that point we stopped pretending and just became full on sexually active. I remember thinking “Is this really what sex is like? Why do people like it so much? Because I hate it”. I never once remember a pleasurable experience. It all just felt uncomfortable, painful, and wrong. I felt dirty and used. I would just stare at the ceiling and wonder when it would be over. I can’t tell you exactly why I let it continue when I hated it so much, but that is what happened and I know I can’t hold myself responsible for it. I was young, insecure, and manipulated. I became increasingly depressed and anxious. I spent a lot less time with my friends and had a harder time in school. I was extremely paranoid all the time, and nobody had any idea what was going on with me because I kept it a secret from everyone. I felt like I was suffering in silence. I remember having horrible thoughts like “I wish he would hit me” because then I would have a completely justifiable, blatant reason to leave him. Everyone would be able to see it, and maybe he wouldn’t even be able to make me feel guilty about leaving. But he never hit me.
Maybe a year and a half later after lots of tears, fights, and drama, I told him I didn’t want him in my life anymore. And that was it; I have seen him and conversed with him a few times since then because he wants to “catch up” (AKA brag about himself) but after that point our friendship and relationship was over. This was where the real battle began; I was a senior in high school and my mental health was in the worst state it has ever been in. Every morning I would wake up and immediately have a panic attack, then I would go cry in the shower for about a half hour. At school, I would have to leave and go to the bathroom to have panic attacks. When I got home I would always have to go for a run even in the dead of winter or else I would be on the border of having a psychotic episode. My thoughts felt mean and scary, and I would hurt myself in places that I could hide. Every waking moment was consumed with thinking about my ex and our sexual encounters, it was like my brain just had it on replay. Over and over again I tried to convince myself that it didn’t really happen, or it didn’t happen very often. I had a hard time watching movies or TV because so many things reminded me of it. And still I never told a soul because I was so ashamed. All of my friends and even my new boyfriend thought I was still a virgin (which I harbored an extreme amount of guilt about). I put on a brave face because I was always the person who was constantly in a good mood and lifted everybody up.
After that I went to college, where things got a little better, and then worse again. The added stress of college was too much for me, and I found myself constantly skipping class. When I went home for winter break I didn’t want to go back but my parents convinced me to. I still had not told anyone about what happened to me. Time went on and I went through phases of doing pretty well and then becoming extremely depressed. I would gain twenty pounds, then lose twenty, then gain back twenty. But whatever state I was in, I was constantly anxious and paranoid. I was just used to it at that point; it was just what my reality was. I genuinely could not remember what it felt like to not feel anxious. Even at the times where I felt the happiest and most peaceful, after a yoga class for example, I would still feel that sinking, sharp pain like a rock on my chest; it was just a lot duller and more subdued. But it was there, like my pain that I had buried had manifested itself into a permanent, physical part of my body. Almost worse than all of this was the dissociation; at first I didn’t notice it, but when I did I realized that I was basically living in a constant state of dissociation. I felt like I was watching my life like it was a movie; I would look at my hands and they would seem completely alien to me, I would talk and feel like I had no control of the words coming out of my mouth. Sometimes I looked at my loved ones and felt like I didn’t recognize them. At times when I was driving I would have to pull over to the side of the road because I felt that it was unsafe for me to drive. It became completely unbearable to me. Finally, I went on medication and started seeing a therapist, which is when I started to come to terms with all of this.
I remember telling my therapist that I felt like I had been raped, but I didn’t feel like I was allowed to say that. I believed that it was unfair to other people who had been “actually raped”. I experienced all of the feelings that a rape victim would but I felt guilty claiming that I had been raped. I was terrified of people telling me that it wasn’t a big deal, that I let it happen, that I was just being overly sensitive. When I started telling people like my therapist, my boyfriend, and my best friend, I finally got something that I had been so desperately seeking: validation. I realized that what I went through was indeed very traumatic and it is completely reasonable for me to have been so affected by it. I started to try to be more gentle,patient, and understanding with myself. After years of completely blocking it out I was finally ready to come to terms with my trauma and begin to heal from it. Today, I still have a long way to go but I am in a better place than I have ever been. I have good days and bad days, but I have learned to be kind to myself on the bad ones. I am finally starting to develop love for myself, which is something that I have been lacking for a very long time. I still have a ways to go, but I have never been more optimistic and excited for my future, and I know it will be bright.
The two most significant things I have learned from this experience are what I desperately want other people to understand. First, emotional abuse is very real,very damaging and should not be taken any less seriously than any other kind of abuse. Second, sexual abuse is not always what we see depicted in movies and television. It is not always a stranger breaking into our house or drugging our drink at a party. Often times it is someone we know, and it may even be someone we are in a relationship with. It might seem kind of consensual, not involve any violence or resistance, and the word “no” might not even be involved. But let me be clear- there is absolutely no consent other than a verbal, enthusiastic yes. If anything like this has happened to you, I am so sorry, but you are going to be okay. You can heal and have a full, happy life, I promise. If you read this all the way through, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, because it truly means so much to me. Whoever you are, I love you and hope you have a beautiful life.
I am a recent college graduate currently working in radio. I love animals, yoga and film. I have about one million career aspirations which include: dog trainer, haunted house actor, filmmaker, and professional baby cuddler.
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