A funny thing happened on the way to the Brown Line …

So I was on my way back home last night, after visiting my friend Kate Donovan (a fellow blogger, read her things!), and I was riding the El, minding my own business in the fairly crowded train car, when these two men sat down in the seats next to me.

They were talking boisterously, which was fine, but then they started cracking jokes about “the fattest woman in the world” whom one of them had heard about recently, and it started to make me feel uncomfortable.

I had already been having a pretty rough, anxiety-ridden day, and I knew that all this talk about weight was likely to trigger my eating disorder, so as soon as they began to muse about the kind of hideous porn that this woman would allegedly make, I got up abruptly (probably visibly perturbed) and moved to the other end of the car.

They laughed uproariously after me as I got up to leave.

That’s fine. They can laugh. Just like I can walk away.

 

When I finally got off at my stop to make my transfer, I stepped up to the platform just as my train was leaving, so I cursed the public transit gods as I realized I would have to wait for another 15 minutes.

I huddled over to the area under the heat lamps — where two other men were standing — to keep myself warm as I waited.

As I stood there and retrieved my cell phone from my pocket, I saw with my peripherals another man come around from behind the partition, and the following incident ensued (keep in mind that I’m partly paraphrasing; I wish I had thought to record it, but it all just happened so quickly)**:

 

Him: [walking up and muttering something about red hair]

Me: [focusing intently on my cell phone, pushing buttons and trying to ignore him in hopes he'd go away — which never works]

Him: Beautiful, beautiful redhead …

Me: [not making eye contact, continuing to ignore him]

Him: Your red hair is sssssssssssssssssssssso gorgeous!

Me: [looking up briefly, and deadpan] Thanks. [proceeding to fiddle with my phone]

Him: Y’know, I’ve got this friend who owns a bunch of bars and restaurants and theaters and such, so if you ever want to hang out, I can take you out sometime —

Me: No thank you.

Him: Or if you ever want to call me or anything, my number is —

Me: No thanks, I’m not interested.

Him: Here’s my number, it’s 7 … 7 … 3 …

Me: Really, I’m not —

Him: 6 … 4 … 2 … 9 …

Me: Are you just, like, making up numbers now?

Him: 3 … 8 …

Me: [to the other two guys keeping warm] Do you guys pick up girls like this? Do you approve of this behavior? [one of the guys shakes his head, and the other one says adamantly: "No."]

Him: I’m not trying to pick you up! I got a girlfriend at home!

Me: You’re not trying to pick me up? Then why are you giving me your number?

Him: I’m just trying to give you a compliment! Not my fault you can’t take a compliment!

Me: Hah! Oh, I can’t take a compliment?

Him: I was just saying I find you attractive, that’s all!

Me: That doesn’t mean I’m going to fuck you. I don’t have the time to have sex with every man who finds me attractive.

Him: [looking surprisingly offended by that remark] I’m not exactly hurting for sex. I’m going home to my girlfriend right now.

Me: Doesn’t matter. You just want to conquer me. I’m just a conquest to you. [at that, the guy who had been standing next to him nodded his head silently in agreement, and I turned to him] Thank you! Thank you for agreeing with me!

Him: Ohhhhhh, I see. Girl, you been taking too many —

Me: [anticipating exactly what he was going to say, because I've heard it all before] — “feminism courses at college”? Yeah. Yeah, I have.

Him: That shit’s not real, you gotta get all that out of your mind. You just think that allllll men want is sex, but I’m just trying to be friendly! I just want to make friends!

Me: Hah! I’ve heard that one before. ["Bashful," anyone?]

Him: You just gotta relax and be more friendly! You think you know what men want? You don’t know what men want! Men want comfort.

Me: Tell that to the men who raped me.

Him: Listen — women have all the same rights as men! You can vote! Men and women are equal!

Me: Hah! Okay, I really don’t have the time to educate you about reality right now …

Him: [getting up in my face] You know who really is oppressed — black people! You have it better than me!

Me: Yes, but women in those minority groups are worse off than their male counterparts. Sexism is intersectional.

Him: No, no, no, no, no —

Me: Yes! And I’m not denying that racism exists, the way you’re denying that sexism exists!

Him: I’m not denying sexism exists!

Me: Yes! You are!

Him: Listen, sweetheart —

Me: I’m not your sweetheart.

Him: Are you a lesbian?

Me: Hah! … Would you go away if I said that I was?

Him: I’m just wondering.

Me: Of course. Because if I don’t want to suck your dick, then obviously it’s because I’m not into men.

Him: I didn’t say anything about sucking dick! Now you gotta go and start stereotyping black men, like alllll black men like getting their dicks sucked —

Me: All men like getting their dicks sucked, I didn’t say anything about black men …

Him: What’s wrong with being friendly? What’s wrong with me telling women they’re attractive? What’s wrong with that? Tell me! Tell me — what’s wrong with that? What —

Me: I will answer you if you stop asking me the same question over and over again. Street harassment is a microaggression, and microaggressions are cumulative. It’s just like when you walk down the street at night, and a white person is walking in front of you, and they turn around and see you, and then cross to the other side of the street — that’s a microaggression, and it happens to you every day, and it just reminds you of your place in the world — just like men remind me of my place in the world every day when they harass me on the street.

Him: But I didn’t degrade you! I didn’t say anything degrading! [cue an elderly man walking into the heated area] Look! I’m just being friendly — just like I’m being friendly to this guy! Hey, man! How you doing?

Me: But you didn’t give him your phone number or tell him how pretty he is! See? You’re not treating us equally! We are not equal. Ask any woman what they think about this, and they will agree with me. And don’t you wonder why that is? It’s because we feel degraded! And you should listen to the people you try to tell how they should feel —

Elderly man: [to me] You’re really overreacting!

Me: That’s easy for you to say — because you’re a man, and this doesn’t happen to you!

Elderly man: You just need to put things in perspective! [around this time, the first guy left to catch his train]

Me: I am putting things in perspective! This is the perspective —

Elderly man: [getting up in my face] Let me tell you something about perspective. My voice is impaired, and you know how that happened? I was caught in a chokehold that left my voice like this.

Me: I believe you, and I feel you. I was choked violently by the man who raped me —

Elderly man: Yeah, yeah, yeah … [waving me off and getting on his train]

 

At this point, I walked out from the heated area to get some of that cold air — delirious at this point, due to the sheer absurdity of it all, and the adrenaline. And when I walked back around to warm up, there was a whole new group of people standing under the heat lamps from the train that had pulled in — two of whom were police officers. So I stood next to one of them, and as soon as I had planted both my feet on the concrete, the cop nearest to me wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into his body. I immediately wrestled my way out of his grip, and he said, “Hey! No! Come on in here and get warm — you don’t have to stand out there in the cold!”

What the hell?? I didn’t know what to say. I was baffled. Even after all that, I was lost for words. How could this man have had the audacity to grab hold of my body like that without any consideration for my willingness to be grabbed — and in front of all these people?

Oh, right. Male entitlement.

I almost forgot.

 

Now, I sincerely don’t recommend that every woman react the way that I did in the face of this kind of adversity. The only reason I talked back was because I made a quick, unconscious assessment of my safety and knew that, given the relative crowdedness of the platform, and my proximity to the two bystanders I mentioned, I felt like the risk of any violent escalation was low. That’s not always the case. And even in this case, I’m sure I only got worked up because … I don’t know, maybe every 334th encounter like this warrants an outburst, because taking it silently on the chin every time can be depleting.

 

All I know is I need feminism.

 

If you can read this anecdote and still not acknowledge the necessity of feminism, then you have lost the plot entirely. I can’t tell you how often I’m told by men to relax while they attempt to ensnare me, that I don’t know better than they do with regards to a woman’s place in the world, that I should take sexual harassment as a compliment rather than as a privileged affront to my gender, that I’m making a big fuss over nothing if I recoil at the greedy hands of a stranger.

 

Well, fuck that.

 

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

 

 

**The “slymepit” has seen fit to doubt the accuracy of my transcription w/r/t the actual content involved in the conversation that I described. For the record, the only parts of this encounter that I am unsure about are the statements’ chronology and I left out some dialogue that was just a repetition of what had already been said. But every statement that I transcribed was, in fact, made, and I remember very well the wording that was used. I know, I know, there’s no hard evidence, but I just wanted to clarify which details I feel like I may have fudged (again, chronology and some repetition), and also to let the slymepit know that I SEE THEM. o.O

I am thankful to be alive again.

 

As this year starts winding down, I’m starting to realize more and more how much — and how far — 2012 has brought me. I know that the historical roots of Thanksgiving render this holiday a heavily veiled celebration of genocide, but if you would, please allow me to persist in this cultural delusion just for the time it takes for you to read this post.

It’s about to get uncomfortably sentimental in here, so how’s that for a trigger warning. ;)

Now, I’ve never been one to uphold widely recognized traditions or to even genuinely participate in any of the quintessential aspects of our nationally celebrated holidays (except, of course, for the part where everybody drinks). That means I can’t remember ever sitting down to make a list of the things I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving.

But something about this year has really soaked my heart in it.

So if you want to know what I’m thankful for … Here it is.

 

I’m thankful for my big sister, who decided on a whim to travel out to live with me after I graduated. She is an eternal optimist — which used to clash with me in all my rampant cynicism, but I realize now that she’s what keeps me balanced. Her uplifting company always comes as a much needed reprieve from the cocoon of hopelessness I often find myself wrapped up in. I really look up to her, and I’m lucky that she’s chosen to spend the next chapter of her life with me.

I’m thankful for my friends. The ones who get me out of the house. The ones who understand when I just can’t manage to. The ones who make me laugh and tell me stories, and when they ask me how I am, they look me in the eyes and really mean it. And I’m thankful for my friends, the “anarchofems,” who have so quickly become the epicenter of my support system. They are ever present, and they have kept me from spiraling into so many isolating episodes, I just wish I had found them sooner. Each one of us aches in our own way, and we all know how much support is worth, and so we exist in a perfect symbiosis of love and compassion. It’s beautiful. And it’s strong.

I’m thankful for Kate Donovan, who warrants an issue of thanks all of her own, who cooks for me when I haven’t eaten, who soothes me when I just can’t deal, who listens to me even when she literally has 382479299 other things she needs to do. And then she turns around and gives the same treatment to everybody else she loves. Amazing. When a person shows you that amount of care, it can fundamentally restructure the way you relate to other human beings, and that is what Kate has done for me. And I’ve only known her a year. To borrow an ironically religious nuance, she is one of my most cherished blessings.

I’m thankful for recovery, which has brought so many pieces of my life back to me — like one of the most precious pieces, my best friend of 17 years, who I had the rare chance to see this past weekend. She held me up when I was at my very weakest — at the very height of the abuse — and it’s in her honor that I strive to be strong.

I’m thankful for my parents, who have been so supportive of me throughout this journey I’ve embarked upon, when I know they probably have had the hardest time of anyone in dealing with the repercussions of this exposure. When they could have just shut down, they opened up instead. And I know from listening to others’ stories that I am tremendously lucky in that regard.

I’m thankful for the men in my life who have shown me what real respect is. And no matter how much they continue to insist that they don’t deserve any special recognition for that, I can’t help but feel this unrelenting gratitude that never fails to move me to tears. (Thank you.)

I’m thankful for this platform, which has provided me with a voice that I had been burying for so long. I know that it can be abrasive, but it helps. It helps. It helps.

I’m thankful for my counselor, who I know will hear me out if all else fails (and who keeps me hopeful that it won’t). I never knew the true meaning of safe space until I started therapy, and without the people who forge out those spaces in all the corners of this beat-up world, so many people like myself would remain irreparably broken.

I’m thankful for the kind words I’ve received — from every friend, family member, and even stranger — over the past few months. It seems to take about a thousand acts of kindness to treat the wounds from just one act of violence. And I’ve experienced not one, but dozens. Luckily, everyone around me has begun to make up the difference, and so this burden keeps getting lighter day by day.

I’m thankful for the birds, because when the depression was at its worst, they were my only friends, and whenever I would watch them, it was the closest I could get to feeling joy.

I’m thankful for feminism, which everybody needs.

I’m thankful for Amanda Palmer, whose agonized words and melodies have been my salvation over the years. Is it weird to pick a singer/songwriter as one’s spiritual guide? Or is it more normal than we tend to admit? In any case, I owe that woman my life, in so many words. All those nights she’s kept me up late, webcasting private concerts from her apartment, tweeting till my ears bled, blogging prose that made me cry with recognition, and making music that could — and has — narrated my life … Those have been the best nights of all.

I’m thankful for anaphora, because without it, this sappy hooey would be unbearable to read.

I’m thankful for my mind, and for everything within it that — despite its obvious afflictions — has enabled me to somehow make sense out of this whole mess, to forgive myself for years of internalizing abuse, to find pleasure in my sexuality, and to harness my pain in order to do good. They keep telling me I’m strong, but I’m only just starting to believe them. It’s funny how the brain can fail to perceive what should come as no surprise. But we only get one, and this one’s mine.

I’m thankful for my newfound hope, a variety of which I had never before felt inside of me, not even back when I was “well.” I listen to myself preach change and peace and progress, and I balk for a second to think that I would have scoffed at all of it, had I met me half a decade ago. This hopefulness is so overpowering, it’s almost a nuisance. But you know what? I kind of like it.

I’m thankful for the fact that things change. That change. That if nothing else, people change. And when I look back on being enveloped by darkness, and thinking only death would free me from it, I am stunned by how such a dramatic shift could have ever brought me back into the light. But it did. And here I am. So can we ever be sure that anything’s really hopeless? And isn’t that such a liberating thought?

And I’m thankful to be alive, because I haven’t been — neither thankful, nor alive. For too long, I’ve been unconscious. Looking through vacant eyes, being but a hollow body, heaving but an empty heart. And all I had for life during the past 3 years was resentment. I never stopped to wonder why I was here, because the answer would have been irrelevant. The real question, to me, was why did I have to be here. Why couldn’t I just not be. But now, I’m feeling this new thing that is really rather remarkable. It’s the feeling of wanting to be alive. And I think I finally understand what all the fuss has been about. I’m feeling things again. I’m living.

 

I’m thankful again to be alive. I’m thankful to be alive again.

 

But most of all, I’m thankful for not being done yet. Because if I were done, there really would be nothing left to live for. I can slip back into darkness at any moment, and I know that. I know that in that darkness, there is no hope, and no amount of pretty words can change that. I know that I can go from complete serenity to panic attack in the time it takes to entertain a solitary thought. But I can see now how it also works in the reverse. I almost look forward to my next big failure, my next episode, my next debilitating cry. Because it will mean that I have more things to learn, more work to do, more of myself — and more of others — to explore and to take care of.

 

Sheeeeesh, who even is this person talking??

 

Ah, fuck it, it’s me. :D

 

A Guide for Intimate Partners of Sexual Assault Survivors

Trigger Warning for discussion of sexual assault (not explicit).

Photo by Ashleigh Haddad (click to enlarge)

 

Let’s be real. Sexual assault is pervasive. It happens often. And it happens to people we care about, whether we know about it or not.

Grappling with that fact can be outrageous enough, but here’s the real clincher: Given the horrifying realities of sexual assault, if you happen to be a sexually active individual (or if you plan to ever be one), there’s a high probability that you will have sex with a survivor at one point or another. (And that probability gets even higher if you identify as queer and/or male.)

So what can you do with that acknowledgment? You might be thinking: it’s in the past, it doesn’t have anything to do with me, so there’s nothing I can do about it. Nope! False. You certainly can’t change the fact that it happened. But there is, on the contrary, so much you can do about it.

As their intimate partner, you are in a unique position to help them beyond simply being a good friend. The level on which you interact with them is the same level on which they were violated. What you say and do on this level can make a huge difference, and that’s a responsibility that you can either accept or respectfully decline. But I know from speaking with others on this subject that most of people’s reluctance to act on this responsibility comes from their being at a loss for what to do.

This is why I’ve compiled a list of tips for you that I hope will prove to be useful. If you strive to be a supportive intimate partner to a survivor of sexual assault, I would advise you to:

 

  • Believe them. If your partner discloses to you that they have been a victim of sexual assault, it is of the utmost importance that you believe them. Don’t be skeptical of their claim. Recognize that the social landscape we live in has made it so that survivors feel silenced and blamed for their attack. And if they’re anything like me, they might very well be entering into every sexual encounter assuming from the get-go that their partner will doubt the reality of their experiences — whether that doubt is ever expressed aloud or not. That being said, I know that saying the words “I believe you” might feel a bit awkward — or even unnecessary, if you think it should be obvious. But it’s not. If you can, try saying it directly. They need to know for sure. The goal should be to make your partner feel safe when they’re alone with you, and making a wholly unambiguous statement such as “I believe you” will serve as a huge step in that direction. (It’s even better than “Gosh, I’m really sorry,” even though that one probably seems more instinctive.) **HaifischGeweint made a good observation in the comments about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s far better to thank your partner for telling you about the assault than it is to apologize for hearing about it. A survivor is entrusting you with this information, and it’s the act of disclosure that you ought to feel grateful for. I know that saying “I’m sorry” feels natural to us, but it’s conventionally an expression of pity, and survivors should not be made to feel pitiful. They should, instead, be made to feel honorable — both for surviving and for having the courage to speak out.
  • Ask the right questions. I know that when you hear someone say something like “I was raped,” you might be curious about the details. Rape can manifest in so many forms, after all, and since the victim is someone you know, you’re probably wondering a lot of things. When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who’s the fucking shithead that would do such a thing? But it’s important to recognize that not every survivor is going to be comfortable disclosing the details of the assault, and even if they are, there are more productive questions you can ask. For instance, more likely than not, sexual assault survivors experience triggers. Triggers can happen in any situation, really, and it all depends on the kind of trauma that took place. However, if you’re going to be engaging in sexual activity with a survivor of sexual assault, there’s a good chance that you will run into a triggering situation with them — during a very inopportune moment (ahem) — and it’s going to be scary and difficult to deal with. They might cry. They might have a panic attack. They might dissociate. And they might be just as lost about how to cope with it as you are. These situations can sometimes be avoided (not always, but a lot of the time) if you know specifically what your partner’s triggers are. So you might try asking them, “Do you have any triggers I should know about, so that I can better accommodate you?” And be patient with them as they formulate a response, because depending on where they are on their own journey toward understanding and recovering from what happened, they might not have a firm handle on it themselves. Another thing about this, though, is that triggers are often embarrassing. Not only when they occur, but also just the fact that something so seemingly innocuous could be triggering is really humiliating. This is one reason why your partner might not offer you the information unsolicitedly, and why it’s important to ask for it yourself. This will show them that a) you’re informed enough on the subject of sexual assault to engage in a serious conversation about it, and b) that you really care to know how you can help. It’s also why you should suspend any and all judgment when you hear the answer to that question. Your partner’s trigger/s might be as simple as a word, or a gesture, or a sex act that you might think is harmless. But to your partner, it is a big deal. So take it seriously! And try to accommodate them as much as you can. You won’t always be able to, and that’s okay, they’ll understand. But your effort and your consideration will be tremendously appreciated.
  • Don’t minimize their feelings. In making this point, I feel compelled to share some wisdom I received directly from one of the counselors from the support group I attended this past February. I had been expressing my concerns to her about feeling as though I was being unreasonable for setting certain boundaries for myself and for feeling certain feels. In response to that admission, she said to me (and I paraphrase): “Sexual assault is the most invasive traumatic experience that a person can have. So whatever boundaries you’re setting … it is Fair. You have every right to feel the way you’re feeling.” This is as important a concept for survivors to grasp as it is for their intimate partners to do so. Because it’s a tough one. And it’s so painfully true. Sexual assault is real, and it’s visceral, and the feelings that come after are doubly so. Keep in mind that your partner is the one who experienced the trauma, so it is your partner who gets to decide how they feel. You might never understand why they can’t participate in certain activities, or why they have to react so lividly to certain pronouncements. But no matter your personal opinion, it is important to understand that they are not “overreacting.” And no matter how counterintuitive it might be, you’re going to have to take that on trust.
  • Be willing to listen. I mentioned previously that not every survivor is going to feel comfortable opening up, but you might encounter just the opposite as well. Personally, I got to the point where I was positively itching to talk to my partner/s about what had happened, about how it had affected me, and about what I needed from them, but I felt like I couldn’t bring it up, because the topic of rape tends to make most people feel a little squeamish (and understandably so). That being said, it’s important that a survivor be allowed to express themselves if they need to, because it can be one of the most crucial components to healing when the timing is right. Make a point of telling them that if they want to talk about it, you’re willing to listen. (Then again, it’s perfectly acceptable to not want to hear anything about it. I’ll speak more on that in my final bullet point.)
  • Don’t take it personally. There might come a time when your partner breaks down, or shuts down, or gets anxious or angry or depressed, and you won’t be able to understand why. In those times, it’s very important to remind yourself that it’s not about you, because your partner may not be in a state to reassure you of that. You might feel helpless, because not only are these outbursts out of your partner’s control, but they’re also out of your control. And you may be the only one around with the presence of mind to process them, but you still won’t have the tools to do so. Forgive yourself for that. The most you can do for your partner in those times is be available to them. Ask them what they need from you, and if the answer is nothing, accept that. You’ll be able to talk about it later, so just make sure to remind yourself in the moment that you’re doing everything you can, and you’re neither to blame for their trauma nor for the effects of their trauma.
  • Be patient and forgiving. This is really a tip for everybody. Regardless of your partner’s sexual history, you should be patient and forgiving. We are all on different schedules. And when there’s trauma involved, the healing process will prove itself to be a long one, so do try to proceed at a pace that your partner finds comfortable. Check in with them frequently, but let them set the pace themselves. And keep in mind that not every survivor of sexual assault will feel comfortable disclosing their survivor status to their intimate partners, so you may very well not even be aware that you’re in the company of one of us. So maybe you’re sleeping with someone who sometimes appears disconnected and distant, right in the middle of the act. Or maybe they suddenly disengage from the sexual activity and excuse themselves from the room for a while. Or maybe they start to cry, but they don’t say why, they just keep apologizing over and over and really throw you for a loop. Don’t dismiss them offhandedly as “crazy.” Consider the possibility that they may be battling a demon unbeknownst to you, and they’re so busy fighting it that they don’t see you as a potential ally in their struggle. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And what’s worse is they’ll never know either that it can get better.
  • Be true to yourself! All of this aside, you are your own person, and your self-care is just as important as your partner’s. If you come to the conclusion that, for whatever reason, you’re not willing to continue your intimate relationship with your partner due to the heavy circumstances, that is entirely your prerogative, and you should not feel as though you have to assume that responsibility if you don’t want to. I understand that it can be intense, and it can be extremely tricky. And maybe you have enough intensity in your life at the moment, or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable or capable of being the sexual partner they need. That’s really okay. But do try to leave the lines of communication open about that and be gentle with their feelings. Tell them that it’s not their fault, that it’s just a bad time, or that they deserve the kind of attention that you’re simply not able to provide. Because they have a hard enough time living with the effects of sexual assault trauma without feeling as though they’re driving everyone around them away. But do listen to yourself, and take care of yourself — there’s certainly no shame in seeking out counseling for yourself either — and make the choice that best suits you, because sex should never be an obligation.

 

That’s a start, at least. If you’re a survivor yourself, or if you’ve been an intimate partner of a sexual assault survivor, please leave any additional insight you undoubtedly have in the comments below!

Go forth and be careful with one another. <3

Breaking the Mold: Project Unbreakable

(Trigger Warning for discussion of rape … but it’s largely about healing.)

I first stumbled upon Project Unbreakable this past spring, and I was immediately stricken by its rawness and beauty and capacity to make a profound difference in people’s lives.

If you’re not already familiar with the initiative, it’s an art project focused on healing from sexual abuse, in which survivors are photographed (by Grace Brown, the project’s founder) holding posters that expose a quote from their attacker as a means of reclaiming the power of the words that were once used against them.

Around the same time that I first watched this video, I was on the Take Back the Night planning committee for my university’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It was the first time I had done any advocacy for this particular cause, and I hadn’t yet come out publicly as a survivor of sexual assault.

And the more that I thought about that, the more I started to suspect that I was being a bit of a hypocrite, working on an event that was meant to encourage survivors to “shatter the silence,” when I hadn’t even shattered my own.

So on April 18th, the three year anniversary of the day I lost my virginity to my attacker, I published a poem I’d written a year and a half prior (in the immediate aftermath of the abuse), hoping that — while I felt thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed and knew not what to expect in response to such a disclosure — my candor would make a difference somehow, to someone, somewhere.

And then an interesting thing happened. I found that releasing that haunting secret felt like coming up to the surface finally for a gulp of fresh air. I wanted more of what I’d just felt.

It’s as if I was literally dying for it.

So I decided to make my own amateur submission to Project Unbreakable, in further preparation for the week of events planned for Take Back the Night, and I made that public as well. If you’ve read my survivor story, you’re probably already familiar with this image, but here is what it looked like:

“You had an extreme sexual experience & you can be proud of it.”

The quote came from a written message I had received from my attacker, in response to a cry for help that I had made to him when I was first struggling to make sense of what he’d done to me.

And then Take Back the Night happened. The rally happened. The speak-out happened. And the waves of relief that crashed over me, every time I spoke out, were so overwhelming that I literally could not stop.

Four months later, I started this blog. I shared my story about the years of abuse I had suffered. And the response that I received was so extraordinary, I’m still speechless.

And I’m realizing how much more manageable this burden is to bear, now that I have so much support around me — and so few secrets bottled up inside me.

So I decided to make an appointment with Grace Brown when she came through Chicago this September on her tour. I figured I’d finally replace my unprofessional submission with a proper one, using the same quote and everything, because I knew it would be powerful, and I hadn’t seen any quote quite like it come out of the project yet.

But then I realized something. On my way to the location where I was to meet Grace, it occurred to me that I had already reclaimed the power of those words. I had released them. They no longer haunted me the way that they used to. Whereas before, when I recalled that venomous declaration of his, I felt only shame and inadequacy … now, I felt nothing but satisfaction. Satisfaction that I had come so far in my understanding of sexual assault that I could look at that image of myself with those words and think: He was so mistaken. These words have no power left over me.

I began to panic a little bit. I was mere minutes away from meeting Grace, and suddenly I didn’t know what to write. I closed my eyes and tried to really get in touch with my pain. I recalled the suggestion that Grace made in an e-mail attachment she sent out to the survivors she had scheduled to photograph. She said: Think of what you want to let go of the most.

The deeper I delved into my thoughts, the clearer it became to me. There was something buried deep down that I still needed to dig up and get out. Words that stripped me of my very basic right to say NO. Even more so than his actions did, because he could only restrain me for so long by force. His words continued resonating for long after.

Even after all the progress I had made in recovery over the past year, he was still controlling my behavior, my mind. The words were there with me — whenever I was alone with a man, I was never really alone. These words continued to echo around the room, paralyzing me, choking me as if they were his hands around my throat.

Why is it that I still find it so hard to say NO when I mean NO?, I wondered. Why is it that the thought of saying NO makes me feel so ashamed? So inadequate? So small and unwanted? So disappointing and unworthy of another person’s time?

I remember him trapping me with his body. I remember him not heeding my shouts or my palms against his chest. I remember him leaving me laying there, such hostility in his face as he yelled into mine.

All I said was “Stop!”

This is what he said.

“Why do you always have to ruin the sex??”

Thank you, Grace, for giving me yet another opportunity to liberate myself. I have a long way to go, but I’ve also come so far. And it’s projects like yours that allow people like me to keep going.

******

(If you can, do browse through the other photos from the project HERE. Biggest trigger warning ever, though. These images are intense. And if you think you might want to participate in the project yourself, you can find more information about how to do that HERE.)

To Douche or Not to Douche?

(SPOILER: NOT to douche!)

In this post, I’m going to regale you with some cold, hard facts about a little product known as The Douche.

The word “douche” comes from the French word doucher, meaning “to shower,” but in modern parlance, it has come to be a conventional insult — and rightly so, because quite frankly, the concept that women need to douche in order to be considered healthy is insulting ... and just plain erroneous.

That nozzle thing, by the way, needs to be pulled up before insertion, meaning it’s actually twice that length you see there when it goes in. It’s more invasive than it appears.

My relationship with the douche runs very deep. (Haha, deep.) In my first-hand account of surviving an abusive relationship, I mentioned that my ex-boyfriend informed me that he would not reciprocate oral sex unless I started douching (a practice which, according to him, all women were supposed to perform weekly). I began to douche compulsively — everyday, despite the label’s instructions — and in the end, it didn’t even matter to him. As it turned out, this was nothing more than yet another ploy in which he managed to assume control over my behavior, my appearance, and my self-image.

Even after I broke up with him, I continued douching out of shame and insecurity. I found myself becoming paralyzed by fear of ever having to open up my legs in front of another human being — all because a man I had been intimate with convinced me my vagina was somehow inadequate.

Now first, allow me to explain to you how the vagina works.

The vagina produces mucous naturally that allows it to clean itself. It also harbors all different kinds of bacteria that create a healthy pH balance that, if disturbed (by something like douching, for example, but also by any kind of deodorizing sprays), can result in vaginal irritation, yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, sexually-transmitted infections, or pelvic inflammatory disease (the latter three of which can lead to complications during pregnancy).

Ironic then, isn’t it, that the douche has been historically marketed to clean the vagina and to prevent STIs. The fact remains that it does neither, and at best, it does absolutely nothing at all (neither harmful nor helpful).**

Originally, the douche was misappropriated as a birth-control device, and also as a popular method of rinsing out menstrual blood during or following a woman’s period. In reality, using a douche in this manner can be counterproductive, as it runs the risk of pushing unwanted fluids farther into the body.

In recent history, the douche has had one marketable purpose, and that is to eradicate “vaginal odor,” aka: the way a vagina smells when it’s actually, y’know, working.

So you see, the war on women did not start with Rep. Todd Akin’s inflammatory remarks two months ago about “legitimate rape” not being able to lead to pregnancy. And it didn’t start with Rep. Lisa Brown being banned from speaking on the floor of the State House in Michigan this past June for saying the word “vagina.” And it also didn’t start with states all over the country cutting funds to Planned Parenthood starting back in May either.

It’s been going on for a lot longer than that.

After oral contraceptives became available to women all across America in the 1970s, medical studies began to show the danger of the douche, and since then, it’s been common knowledge.

At least among doctors everywhere.

Because of my own personal experiences, and since engaging others in conversations about douching, it seems as though the knowledge of the potential harm that douching has on vaginal health is not actually so common. In fact, many of my peers (my ex-boyfriend included) seem to think that douching is a hygienic practice, while others simply are unaware as to what douching even is.

Well, allow me to enlighten you. The douche is an antiquated emblem of patriarchal oppression that takes something as incredible and awe-inspiring as the vagina and transforms it into something shameful, repulsive, and altogether misunderstood.

The vagina is supposed to smell like pussy, people. Not like a can of Lysol.

In conclusion, if you’ve come this far, and you still think women should douche, then congratulations — you’re a douche! :)

******

**N.B. — If, however, you do suspect you might actually have a problem, see your gynecologist for counsel. Don’t take a person with a penis’s word for it. (Unless, of course, your gynecologist has a penis, in which case … carry on.)

On “Proving It” (or Being A Survivor in the Skeptical Movement)

(Trigger Warning for discussion of rape [not explicit].)

I was a skeptic long before I was a victim of rape.

Well, I guess to say “long before” is a tad disingenuous of me. I became a skeptic just about a year before. But it was definitely one of my defining attributes at the time.

Just before venturing off to college, I found myself immersed in the online atheist/skeptic community, and the solace that I found there was the biggest driving force behind my decision to co-found my university’s Secular Student Alliance a year later.

But something happened in the meantime. And it was … well, I guess I’ve already told you all about that. Needless to say, as soon as I made sense of what had actually happened to me, that replaced everything else as my predominant marker, my new most defining attribute. I was a rape survivor. A feminist. An advocate of sexual assault awareness.

Oh, and I was also a skeptic. An atheist. And I had been for a while.

Something I’ve noticed recently, though, since embracing my newfound identity as a feminist and survivor of sexual assault (and everything unpleasant that comes along with that), is that the skeptical community is largely comprised of straight, white, educated, cisgendered men.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, nothing inherently. But I’ll tell you what happens.

All five of those prevailing characteristics carry with them what is referred to as privilege. (Eek! It’s a buzzword, I know. Please keep reading anyway, despite your desire to:  (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻. I will be arriving at the point in a mere moment.) When a person has privilege, it means they experience the world unlike others who lack their respective privilege — and in a good way. It’s not their fault that they’re privileged. But it does mean that they have a responsibility to be aware of their privilege and to, in turn, lend more of an ear to the experiences of others who have not been endowed with said privilege, rather than relying on their own perceptions of the world to determine all of their worldly perspectives.

That might sound vague, so allow me to illustrate what I mean.

A person who has never been the victim of sexual violence has privilege over those of us who have.* They don’t have to live with the post-traumatic effects of sexual violence. They don’t have to have their lives disrupted by triggers or flashbacks or incapacitating fear of repeated abuse. They don’t have to even necessarily think about sexual assault at any point as they go from one day to the next. It’s just not a presence in their lives. It is so far removed from them, that when they hear about it, they have no bearing on it as a concrete event, only as a concept.

And with mere conceptions, naturally, come misconceptions.

Oftentimes, you’ll hear a skeptic (usually a man, I’ve found) say, in response to the subject of sexual assault and/or harassment, something like, “If we’re an evidence-based community, that should go for all things.” Or perhaps, “Until we have all the facts, we can’t come to any logical conclusion.” Or even, “Anecdotal evidence is not evidence.”

All of which, by the way, are statements that, given any other context, I would wholeheartedly agree with.

But here’s the problem. The realities of rape are severe. And they’re just that: realities. We’re not talking about reports of supernatural activity. We’re not talking about UFO sightings or near-death experiences or ghosts. We’re not talking about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. We’re talking about rape. And rape is real.

Now, you might be thinking, “but cassy! that’s not very skepticism of u!” and you may be right. But I’m not going to throw a bunch of statistics at you right now, because they’re all outdated and probably wrong anyway (I’ve never heard a rape statistic that I didn’t think was guilty of actually understating the problem, given what I know about the experiences of those who have opened up around me), and besides, you’ve heard it all before. (But just in case you haven’t, HERE. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

What I am going to say is this: Rape happens so much more frequently than you think. There are — without a doubt — women (and men) in your life who have been sexually assaulted, and more often than not, have left you in the dark about it, because we live in a vicious society where victims are blamed for circumstances out of their control and no one is properly taught about consent or what to expect from a healthy relationship. And no, they cannot provide you with proof. What proof do you think they will have at their disposal? Do you think they thought to take video of it with their iPhones? Do you think the perpetrator will actually come forward and confess upon being asked if the events happened “as alleged”? Do you think there’s some sort of test that can be performed in a lab somewhere that will demonstrate exactly how the Raped party screamed “No!” but the Rapist didn’t listen? What is it that you want? What is it that you think you’ll find if you investigate the claim to its “logical conclusion”?

When it comes to rape, all you have is anecdotal evidence. And you know what else? No matter how much doubt you have about the events described, I guarantee you that the victim of the assault is experiencing those doubts inside his/her head on a level wholly unimaginable to you. And they’re blaming themselves. And they feel certain that no one is going to believe them.

And when they finally do tell someone, maybe that someone does nothing else but simply live up to those expectations, so that their newfound confidante just drives them back into their vacuous pit of doubt and self-loathing — only even farther this time, because the more that those doubts are validated, the more likely the person suffering for them is not going to make it back out of that darkness the next time.

And that’s a fact, by the way, since facts are what you so fervently require.

“What about rape kits?” you might ask. Well, I don’t know if you heard about the rape kit backlog fiasco that’s been going on for decades, but that’s taken a major toll on the system’s credibility, and people are still rallying nationwide to push for the end of the backlog.

Secondly, the rape cases that these kits would predominantly bring to justice are those rapes perpetrated by strangers (due to the fact that in all other cases, the perpetrator is already identifiable), which, if you know the first thing about sexual assault, is among the least common realizations of rape.

And lastly, due to the rape culture in which we live, victims of sexual assault often struggle to come to terms with the fact that they have been, in fact, assaulted — their first instinct is not so much to call the police or a rape crisis hotline, as much as it is to stay paralyzed for weeks, months, or even years, stun-stained with shame and shock and fear — and above all else, doubt. Particularly when it’s an instance of acquaintance rape because — as you might be able to imagine — it’s especially challenging to try to wrap your brain around the fact that someone you know, someone you trust, someone you may even love, has violated you so consummately.

And that’s why our current system of testing, investigating, and prosecuting is so unreliable.

Yes, I understand that false rape allegations are also problematic and destructive. They can ruin lives as well. The number that is often trotted out as the rate of false rape reporting (and this is just out of the rapes that actually get reported, which is the minority of all the rapes that actually occur, so just let that sink in for a bit there) is 8% … But what does “false” mean, in this context?

When you hear people cite a rape allegation as “false,” they are many times unwittingly referring to the cases that are merely “unfounded” — which, if you’re unfamiliar with the lingo, generally means neither proven nor disproven.

In other words, “a report of rape might be classified as unfounded (rather than as forcible rape) if the alleged victim did not try to fight off the suspect, if the alleged perpetrator did not use physical force or a weapon of some sort, if the alleged victim did not sustain any physical injuries, or if the alleged victim and the accused had a prior sexual relationship.”

That last one is the real stinger for me. By the FBI’s standards, my rape would have been tossed aside as “unfounded” had I reported it. And with our justice system the way it is, can you really blame me for having not?

This is not to say that false reports never occur. Surely, they must. But given how grossly underreported rape is, and how the fear of being disbelieved and/or blamed is one of the key contributors to that problem, and how damaging those attitudes can be to a survivor’s mental health … I’d say that the most logical thing to do in this scenario would be to suspend your skepticism. Just for long enough to believe for one minute that there might actually be something real that’s beyond your understanding.

It happened to me.

And it shouldn’t have to be my burden to “prove it.”

******

*Re: privilege — someone noted on Reddit in response to this post that “Not being raped isn’t a privilege, it’s a right.” AGREED!

I am a survivor, and this is my story (PART FOUR)

TRIGGER WARNING: No-holds-barred descriptions of sexual violence and strong language to follow (also, discussion of depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and anorexia). Please, practice self-care in reading this, as I made sure to do so in writing it. Also, please be mindful of your comments, because this is very delicate subject matter and … pretty much as personal as it gets.

 

•°*•*°• . CHAPTER 6 •°*•*°• .

Healing

We made it! If you were able to read this far, you deserve a freaking medal.

This chapter is about healing. It has a theme song, and it goes like this:)

So basically, there were 5 significant components to my healing process (only thus far, because the remainder of my entire life will be about healing, most probably), and so I will delineate them for you now.

 

1) Counseling

As you’ll remember from the chapter on Relationship Violence, I started counseling in September of 2011. Now, before I was raped, I had always sort of looked down on therapy. I had it in my head that people should be able to deal with any and all of life’s crises by themselves (but that was before I had ever experienced anything that I just couldn’t handle on my own), and I hated the idea of paying someone to listen to me talk about my feelings.

I still have reservations about the latter, actually, and if my University hadn’t provided free counseling services, I may never have used that resource.

However, one good thing to note is that many areas (Washington D.C. and Chicago included) offer FREE, individual counseling for survivors of sexual assault. Beyond that, some services are obviously not going to be accessible to everyone — but luckily, RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) provides a 24/7, anonymous, online rape crisis hotline for survivors whose options are monetarily limited.

——> A note on affordable counseling from Rosie in the comments: “Most every major metro area has a local rape crisis center and many of these places offer counseling on a sliding scale or ‘donate whatever you can afford’ basis. You can use RAINN’s website to locate your local rape crisis center.” <——

I must say, though, that after being in counseling for 9 months, all of my pessimism about the value of therapy has vanished. My counselor gave me an invaluable kind of support and validation for my experiences, and just being able to articulate the words after being silenced and shamed for so long was so unbelievably beneficial to my mental health.

Sometimes all survivors of trauma really need is to be allotted the freedom to say the words.

Moreover, because I was hyperaware that every week, it was my duty to report back to my counselor about what had been happening with me lately — my feelings, my progress, my life events and whatnot — I found myself acting more responsibly in life. All of a sudden, there was someone else there who wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself and actualizing the strength that I knew had to be buried deep down inside of me somewhere.

And with her help and unending support, I managed to find it.

It was a little strange sometimes to catch myself thinking things like, “If I do this … How will I explain it to my counselor?” But I found that that train of thought actually helped me make smarter decisions. If I couldn’t justify certain choices to my counselor — who truly did have my best interests at heart — then was it something I should really be doing?

This mindset helped me to start asking myself the right questions and to think much harder before I acted on my impulses or resignations.

I started to live so much less recklessly because of her. She brought to light which considerations I was making were important ones and which ones were nonsensical, and now that I have that filter, I feel secure that I can actually look out for myselfShe gave me practical tools that I can now use to make sure that I’m living in a way that is safe and self-respecting.

She also shared other helpful resources with me, which brings me to #2.

 

2) Support Group Counseling

In February-March of 2012, I attended a free support group in Chicago for student survivors of sexual assault. I had always been interested in the dynamic of group therapy, because I thought that it would behoove me to actually be around others who had experienced similar trauma and who were on the same path to recovery as I was.

What I discovered there was sensational. We actually were discouraged to go into the details of our stories, because the point of the program was to focus entirely on healing, moving forward, and leaving the past in our past.

The counselors took us through various exercises that were meant to get us in touch with the way sexual assault had impacted our identity, our day-to-day lives, our intimate relationships, our self-image, and much much more.

It was so therapeutic to find out that, not only was I not alone in having experienced this trauma, but I also wasn’t alone in the way that I was coping with it after the fact.

By the end of the 8-week program, I was feeling so rejuvenated — I felt like I was alive again.

On the last day, we were all instructed to write a letter to ourselves, stream-of-consciousness style, and the counselors collected them and said they would be mailing the letters to us at some undisclosed point in the future. I received mine not too long ago, and I’d like to share it with you now, for emphasis:

“Dear Self, :)

First and foremost, I hope you are doing well. I hope that you feel as good — if not better — now as you did when you wrote this. You should look back on this day as a culmination of days when your strongest hopes were actualized (or starting to actualize) and your darkest fears were thwarted. I believe in you. I believe in the good in you and the strength in you. You have tremendous untapped power that you’re only starting to discover, and I am proud of the progress you have made. Just look at us! Did you ever think we would feel hope again? Happiness? Will to live? And now we do. That is meaningful. You may not believe in God, but Lord knows [؟] you believe in moving forward. Change. Progress. Personal integrity and growth. Now go forth and prove it. Do it with COURAGE. CONSENT. CONVICTION. Those are the 3 C’s. Don’t forget them. Remember everything you did and learned in group; remember how good it made you feel to find communion and support and THE TRUTH. What happened to you will stay with you, but it won’t define you forever. Stay strong. Remember your convictions. DON’T LET ANYONE MAKE YOU FEEL WORTHLESS. Because you are worth so much. You’re all we have! Take care of yourself, survivor. ♥ 

— your Self.”

 

3) Good Sex

Another game-changer for me was meeting a man who showed me that sex didn’t have to be terrifying, humiliating, or painful. He was so conscious of the language of Consent, and he made me feel as though the way I was experiencing the sex was actually important to him.

He was so patient, kind, and forgiving. He let me sit in the driver’s seat. For the first time ever since I’d first become sexually active, I wasn’t thrown in the back — or tied up and locked inside the trunk — while I was taken along for the ride.

This man wanted me to actually be there.

And what’s more, he didn’t reduce my worth down to whether or not I gave him head. He still wanted to have sex with me, regardless. And for me … well, let’s just say, that was a big deal. It gave me the space and freedom that I so desperately needed to explore my sexuality for myself — and because of him, I have almost entirely conquered my fear of oral sex.

I honestly cannot emphasize enough how important intimate partners of sexual assault victims can be to the healing process. It would be impractical for a sexual assault survivor to simply stop having sex indefinitely while they wait for their trauma to magically vanish. It doesn’t work that way. But in order to heal from sexual abuse, a victim’s partner/s must be cooperativepatient, and sensitive. (Remind me to elaborate more on this topic in a future blog post.)

No matter how much good, consensual sex I will go on to have in my life, this man that I met just as I was beginning my journey to recovery will always be the man who restored my hope, and who showed me that what had destroyed me wasn’t Man, and it wasn’t Sex — it was Abuse. But there are good men, and there is good sex, and because this exceptionally good man never once gave up on me, I know now where to direct my anger and what to look for in a healthy, consensual relationship.

 

4) Affirmations

During Northwestern’s Sex Week in April 2012, there was a talk called “Sex After Rape,” which briefly discussed a book that sounded pretty interesting and relevant to me entitled Urban Tantra” by Barbara Carrellas. The book took an approach to tantric sex as a form of healing.

The quote that first piqued my interest was this one:

“Healing sexual abuse through sexuality begins by peeling away the layers of armor we have built up to protect ourselves from further abuse.”

That rang so true with me, that I went right out and bought the book. I read it cover to cover. It was a very emotional and cleansing experience for me.

I found that what it really did most was help me to repair my broken relationship with myselfBy recalibrating my regard for my sexuality from one of shame and embarrassment to one of marvel and love, I managed to heal the wounds that I had brought upon myself for so many years.

All of the self-loathing, self-blame, self-inflicted punishment … Reading this book helped me finally forgive myself for all of that and begin again.

Not to mention the fact that it provided me with a bevy of useful affirmations that I recite to myself sometimes before embarking on sexual ventures, to help keep me grounded in my body, in my sexuality, in my self.

Now, that is not to say that I no longer have triggers, or breakdowns, or doubts. I still do. But the difference is that, now, I also have hope. And knowledge. And most importantly, the power to change and to heal.

 

5) Advocacy

In April of 2012, I was on the planning committee for Northwestern’s annual Take Back the Night events. For the first time, I was able to feel the incredible catharsis and fulfillment of speaking out publicly against sexual assault.

I shared my experiences at the Speak Out. I listened to others’ stories. We cried together. We embraced each other.

I began to realize that this was about so much more than just me. It was about all of us.

And that’s when I decided that I could do so much more. I’m now working 24/7 to combat sexual violence, and sharing my story with you, my dear Internet, is just one more step in the right direction.

The last time I saw my counselor this past June, she told me, “Cassy … you’re walking out of here today a Warrior.” And because of her … because of every counselor, every friend, every lover, and even every stranger who has supported me along the way … I do feel strong enough finally to not only survive, but to reclaim the power that has been stripped of me — and to fight back.

TAKEBACKALLTHENIGHTS

The banner that my student group made for the Take Back the Night rally, April 2012.
TAKE BACK ALL THE NIGHTS!

•°*•*°• . EPILOGUE •°*•*°• .

What can we take away from all this?

1) COERCION IS NOT CONSENT. If you haven’t noticed, this is a pretty big issue to me. I know that it’s hard to conceptualize non-violent instances of sexual assault, since the image of rape that we’ve been spoon-fed our entire lives is one depicting physical manipulation, not psychological. Hopefully, though, after having read my account, you can see how coerced sex can be just as traumatic as forced sex — because really, there’s no distinction in the mind of the victim; they’re just two different ways of dispossessing a person of their right to say “no.” And when “no” is not an option, “yes” is meaningless.

 

2) Trauma triggers are another concept you’ll want to familiarize yourself with. When a sexual assault survivor is triggered, they are mentally transported back to an instance of sexual abuse, and as far as their brain is concerned, the abuse is happening right then in the present, it’s not just a memory from the past. Triggers can take the form of any variety of senses: smell, taste, touch, sight, sound … And “trigger” can also refer to something that causes an episode in people with mental illnesses. I’ve decided to compile a list of all of the triggers I’ve experienced in the past 3 years (which is not to say that I still experience all of them), so that you can get a better idea of how intrusive they really are to a person’s day-to-day life:

Vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, doggy-style, being choked, being slapped, being spanked, being grabbed, being held down, being bound, having my ears, eyes, or mouth covered, being videotaped, simply being asked to partake in any of the above activities, overhearing conversations that mention any of the above activities, comments made about how good/bad I am at giving head, being shushed during sex, the phrases “take/suck that dick,” “good girl,” “suck it,” “come on!!”, or any variation of “I wish you’d suck my cock,”, being told I take sex too seriously, being told to “chill out,” being called “worthless” or “useless” (even if only in jest), being pressured, threatened, guilted, intimidated, or blackmailed into partaking in a sexual activity, or otherwise being raped, masturbating (yes, you heard me right), defecating, getting high, watching rape scenes in movies or television, watching sex scenes in movies or television, seeing pornography (still or video), certain rap lyrics and entire songs in general (e.g., Cam’ron’s “Suck it or Not,” Enya’s “Caribbean Blue,” Lovage’s “Sex (I’m A)”), the taste of neat Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, the taste of Blue Moon Belgium White Wheat Ale, victim-blaming or threats of rape (even when not directed at me), certain penetrating looks from men on the street or in bed with me, the sight of a man stroking his penis while making eye contact with me, certain physical characteristics that remind me of my rapist/s, actually seeing one of them unexpectedly in passing, walking home alone at night, the sound of a bicycle or a skateboard passing, the sound of small objects hitting my bedroom window, the sound of my phone ringing or vibrating, walking by certain locations (e.g., the Starbucks on Sherman Ave, the corner of Wesley Ave and Simpson St., *Doc’s apartment on Orrington Ave)  … you get the idea.

 

3) I’ll admit that I made a lot of poor decisions over the past few years, and I know that my self-esteem was embarrassingly low — so embarrassingly low that it alone is enough to make me cringe at the thought of anyone reading my story. But I think it’s worth noting that so much of my opinion of myself was derived from being traumatized, and the longer I went without support, the more vulnerable I become to attack. There’s a huge distinction between a stranger approaching you on the street and telling you that you’re worthless, and a lover — someone you trust, someone whose been intimate with you in the most invasive way possible — telling you that you’re worthless. Words can hurt — when they’re coupled with violence, especially — and they can haunt you for years. So … YES, we need to empower women at a young age, it’s true. That is a tremendous necessity that is just as important to advocate for as combatting sexual violence. But by no means is rape a suitable punishment for having low self-esteem. I refuse to believe that I deserved it, simply because I was weak of mind at the time.

 

4) Along those same lines, no survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence can seek help until they are ready to. Realize that just because you don’t know that you know anyone close to you who has been the victim of those sorts of violent acts does not mean you truly don’t know any. Be patient with yourself and with others. The most you can do as a friend if/when a victim confides in you is listen to them, encourage them to express themselves, validate their experiences by reassuring them that you believe them and that it wasn’t their fault. They’re most likely doubting and blaming themselves enough already, and the last thing they need is an external source of doubt or blame, shaming and silencing them. That is counterproductive, if what you want is to help them heal.

 

5) It’s also important to recognize that the way we think about and talk about sex as a society can silence survivors and perpetuate violence as well. For example, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my story at all if I still didn’t feel able to give blowjobs, because no matter how far I’ve come in recovery, I’m still tremendously ashamed by the fact that that was a part of my identity for so long. And I’m ashamed by it because society at large tells us that it is an impermissible way to be. Please try to understand that there is no such thing as a “wrong boundary,” and that the only “wrong” way to explore your sexuality is to do something just because someone else thinks that you “should.”

 

6) Building off of that, I sometimes wish that telling my partners I’ve been a victim of rape didn’t make them more likely to respect my boundaries than if I hadn’t told them. I hate that having been raped is a “good reason” for creating certain boundaries for oneself — as if there actually exist “bad reasons.” Not wanting to participate in a particular sex act is enough of a reason on its own, without having to justify it. Although, if it helps you to think of every person with a boundary you disagree with as having made that choice as a result of a sexual assault, then so be it. But consider this: If everyone just respected each other’s boundaries equally, maybe sexual assault wouldn’t occur in the first place (or at least not on such a large scale).

 

7) “Feminism” is not a dirty word.

 

8) Sometimes it is terribly difficult to say “no” — whether it be due to socialization, circumstance, or interpersonal dynamics. This is why it is so much safer to approach sexual interactions from a position of Consent Only: waiting to hear a “yes,” rather than proceeding until you hear a “no.” Check up on your partner throughout the sex act. When in doubt — ASK. I assure you, coming across as considerate is worth the risk of coming across as awkward.

 

9) Anorexia is a mental illnessDepression is a mental illnessPTSD is a mental illnessSubstance abuse is a common co-occurrence with mental illness. (And countless others.) None of these conditions are choices. None of their victims should be shamed.

 

10) That’s all I could come up with for right now. If you think of another good point, post it in the comments, and I will add it to the list! :)

 

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR LISTENING! [heaves heavy sigh of relief]

 

PART ONE: Partner Rape

PART TWO: Date Rape

PART THREE: Relationship Violence

I am a survivor, and this is my story (PART THREE)

TRIGGER WARNING: No-holds-barred descriptions of sexual violence and strong language to follow (also, discussion of depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and anorexia). Please, practice self-care in reading this, as I made sure to do so in writing it. Also, please be mindful of your comments, because this is very delicate subject matter and … pretty much as personal as it gets.

 

•°*•*°• . CHAPTER 5 •°*•*°• .

Relationship Violence

This next chapter regales the story of my first committed relationship — with a man we’ll call *Dopey — which devolved yet again into abuse.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been in an abusive relationship, but it was the first time I had experienced abuse under the guise of “love.”

Before I can get to that, though, I have to explain the circumstances under which I first met *Dopey. And in order to do so, there is another individual I must mention.

After winter break, when I returned to campus, I began frequenting the Starbucks in which I had first met up with *Doc, because I was hoping I would see him pass by. I didn’t want to start up again with him … but I had this unshakable, nonsensical desire to see him, watch him.

I was fascinated by how positively normal he looked, just walking around in downtown Evanston, IL. No one seemed to understand as they passed by him that he was dangerous — a sadistic criminal — and I felt like I was the only one who knew.

It’s strange, isn’t it, how you never really know.

Anyway, there was this regular at Starbucks who took a shining to me. Let’s call him *Bashful. He was a 39 year old graphic designer and “rapper” with a patch of short, yellow dreadlocks on top of his head — and I didn’t learn until later, but he had evidently been banned from several coffee establishments in the area on the grounds of having repeatedly sexually harassed women.

**N.B.: Since publishing this story, a few female friends of mine have informed me that they, too, have been repeatedly harassed by this individual (one of them even managed to call the cops on him once). If you are a woman living in Evanston, IL — take heed. Read the description I provided (trust me, you’ll know him when you see him).**

He started chatting me up, and I was very short with him. Whenever it got to the point when I had to adamantly request that he leave me alone, he would pull the line, “I just want to be friends; it’s so hard to find friends in this town …” which quickly escalated into, “What — you don’t want to make friends? What’s wrong with you that you don’t want friends?”

It was an excruciatingly cyclical conversation, and of course, I knew what it was he actually wanted. And I told him straight off that I wasn’t interested, that I hated sex, that I wasn’t any good at it, that I had a long history of sexual abuse, and that I didn’t give blowjobs.

And somehow none of this deterred him.

I wasn’t flattered; I was annoyed. He badgered me for my number over and over, and I refused him again and again. We continued to run into each other all over town for the next week or so — I was almost convinced he was stalking me. After awhile, I got exhausted from the pursuit and gave him my phone number, figuring that it would only take a night or two of actually being intimate with me for him to realize I had nothing to offer him.

At least he offered to do a liquor run for me, which was the only upside.

Anyway, I went over to his place, and we started talking and drinking. I remember him saying something like, “Man, I can’t wait for you to get drunk — you’re so insecure and shit!” Yep. I, too, couldn’t wait to get drunk …

He also mentioned that his drug dealer (*Dopey) and another friend were coming over to bring him some weed and would stay for awhile to smoke it with us. So that happened. *Dopey turned out to be really attractive and exponentially more charming and interesting than *Bashful, so I spent most of my time on the couch talking to him.

Needless to say, I ended up getting thoroughly crunk. So crunk that I somehow found myself sitting on *Bashful’s bed alone with *Dopey, making out!? I remember entertaining the thought that maybe the three of these men were planning to gang bang me or something, but I was too intoxicated to make my body catch up with my thoughts enough to make a run for it.

Things started escalating, and I noticed how not in control of my body I was. My panties eventually came off, and *Dopey was poised to enter me, when … *Bashful knocked on the door. We scrambled to make it look like nothing had been happening, but *Bashful took one look at us and he knew. He started screaming at *Dopey and kicked him and his friend out of the apartment (but not before *Dopey managed to get my phone number from me; I still don’t know how I was able to recite it to him accurately, that’s how hammered I was).

Throughout all of the commotion, I stood alone in *Bashful’s room, terrified. I didn’t know if this man was violent, and somewhere in my mind behind all of the cloudiness that the drugs had created, I was aware that I had just committed one of the worst cardinal sins of dating.

I could only think of one way to avoid retribution for my actions, so I undressed and climbed into his bed and waited.

I remember hearing *Dopey, as he was leaving the apartment, say to *Bashful, “Hey, man … Respect. Respect, man. Respect …” and I found that kind of amusing, given the circumstances.

Anyway, *Bashful and I had sex, and I felt terrible afterwards. I was more paranoid from the pot than I ever had been before and I could feel my hangover coming already. At one point, after *Bashful went to sleep, I tried to make a run for it — I grabbed the bottle of Malibu that I had paid for and left the room, but panicked once I noticed there was a night guard working at the front desk and I was underage. I went back, but the door had locked behind me, so I called *Bashful, and he opened the door — confused as to why I had left in the first place — and we stayed up all night yelling at each other.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

*Dopey texted me a bunch after that, and we ended up getting together. In the texts, he had told me how “fun” he thought I was, so I figured I couldn’t ever let him see me sober. It took us over a month to actually have sober sex for the first time, and looking back on it, I guesstimate that over the course of the 9 months we spent together, about 84% of the sex we had was when at least one of us (usually both) was inebriated.

At first, it was really fun. He was incredibly charming upfront, and well … I was always drunk, so that really took the edge off.

The first couple of times we saw each other, we ended up going over to *Bashful’s place to hang out all together, but eventually I got tired of playing that dubious game. I knew that I had to stop hanging out with *Bashful completely if I was going to keep seeing *Dopey, so that’s what I did.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to discover that *Dopey had just as much of an anal fixation as *Doc had. Right after I refused to go down on him, he tried to pressure me into having anal with him. I said that we could try it … and it was the first time I had ever experienced it with lube … but the pain was still too much, and I couldn’t bear the physical flashback that brought me back to being raped by *Doc, so I told him to stop, and he did.

Before we saw each other next, though, I felt that I had to clear up my boundaries explicitly, to give him a chance to think critically about whether he wanted to continue our affair or not.

So I sent him the following text message:

“Listen, I just want to make sure we’re clear on my boundaries. I’m not going to change my mind about anal/oral, so if that’s not okay with you, I don’t want to make you come all the way over here just to be disappointed. It’s your choice, and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you’re not getting the sexual gratification you need from me and decide you don’t want to keep seeing me. But if you do want to, I need to feel secure in that you’re not going to try to push me past my limits. It’s fine whatever you decide, but please, be honest, that’s all I ask.”

He said he definitely wanted us to keep seeing each other.

Who knows if he had really thought it through, but at least now, he wouldn’t be able to claim ignorance if he tried to take advantage of me.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

The next time we got together, I learned that he had a bona fide ”fatty fetish.” Like, it wasn’t just that he preferred “women with meat on their bones” — he actually watched porn of morbidly obese women. I didn’t know how to feel about it at first … Was liking me solely on the basis of my body type really any different in theory than rejecting me based solely on my body type?

But in the long run, it ended up really working out. As soon as he picked up on the fact that I was anorexic, he would encourage me to eat whenever he was around. It still wasn’t terribly healthy, because he did tell me that he would prefer that I put on weight (and that’s sort of just as uncouth as telling someone to lose weight, if you think about it), so I ended up overeating and that’s sort of just the equal/opposite problem as starving oneself.

But being with him really altered my self-image in an unexpected way. When I would look in the mirror, suddenly I was seeing myself through the eyes of someone who was more attracted to fat women than to skinny women, and so instead of thinking of myself as beautiful despite my body, I was thinking of myself as beautiful because of my body.

And it was a really nice change.

On the other hand, I started getting a sadistic vibe from him. He was so hard to read, though, because he was constantly back-pedaling and changing his views based on my reaction to whatever he said.

But one thing I remember vividly was when we were sitting on my bed, listening to some music, he turned to me, and with a sick, twisted smile on his face, he said, “Do you like sex and violence?”

I totally froze. I panicked, my heartbeat accelerated, and I couldn’t speak. I only had the wherewithal to shake my head.

He could tell that I freaked out a bit, so he apologized and said he shouldn’t have said anything. I tried to just forget about it, but I felt really afraid all of a sudden. Like, here I thought this might be someone I could begin healing with, but what if he turned out to be just another monster?

A few times during sex, he even put his hands around my neck. He stopped doing it each time I removed them. But just the thought that he wanted to do that to me — and that he didn’t ask first or anything — made me feel uncomfortable. (Even to this day, when a man I’m sleeping with even so much as asks if I’m into such-and-such-a-thing-that-traumatized-me, I can’t help but go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. I’m getting better at dealing with it, but it’s a huge internal struggle every time.)

Anyway, I stifled that fear for the time being. After all, I could’ve just been being paranoid, and he hadn’t actually done anything to hurt me … yet.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

As time went on, I learned more and more about him. He revealed to me in confidence that he was an illegal immigrant, that his mother had abandoned him when he was just a child, and that he slept on the floor of his stepfather’s flat, where he lived with his little brother and sister.

He also mentioned that his stepfather charged him for storage.

I felt so deeply for him when I heard all of that, that I offered him my bed to sleep in whenever he needed it, and said that he could keep some of his stuff in my room because I wouldn’t charge him (and my inner girl squeed so hard the first time he ever left his flannel pajama bottoms at my place — it was just the most adorable thing that had ever happened in my liiife, zomg).

At first, he was very careful not to take advantage of that offer (he said he wanted to “respect my space”). But one night, his stepfather kicked him out (it probably had something to do with drugs; they had a very volatile relationship because of that, among other things), and so he brought all of his stuff over piece by piece and somehow wound up living in my apartment.

It was never an official transition. I didn’t even realize what was happening until it occurred to me that he had essentially “moved in.” It was so clever. I almost applaud him for his stealth, although it really complicated ALL THE THINGS.

Especially when he got fired from his job. I said that I would support him while he found a new one. The thought occurred to me that he was just using me, but I convinced myself that I was only suspecting that because of my trust issues, and told myself that perhaps it was time for me to just relax for a change.

As for the sex, it started triggering me on a regular basis. He only really liked doing it from behind (which obviously, I had negative associations with), and he was always chastising me for touching him too much, but he never gave me the affection I needed in return to console me for the sex I didn’t enjoy — and again, I was too afraid to ask for it most of the time because I had been conditioned by *Doc to keep my needs to myself (like when he blamed me for not being able to climax, shamed me for not enjoying sex the way he liked it, told me I was too much work for too little reward, &c.).

Another issue was that *Dopey was a total pothead, so we ended up smoking together a lot. Until I realized that the paranoia that resulted from it made me 10x more likely to be triggered during sex, so I had to stop (and to this day, I can’t smoke pot anymore — in any situation — because of those horrible associations).

So after every time *Dopey and I would have sex, I ended up weeping silently to myself while he fell asleep. If he thought he heard something, he’d ask, “Are you crying??” And every time, I answered, “No.”

I didn’t want his sympathy. I really didn’t want him to notice. I just wanted to be okay.

It wasn’t as if I refrained from trying to communicate my feelings at all to him. It’s just that, every time I expressed even the slightest feminist thought (e.g., “we’re supposed to be an equal partnership, we should both be making compromises,” &c.), he would reply with a harsh, “Chill out!!” (aka: the misogynist’s staple defense) and that would always make me retreat into myself to fume in isolation.

It was an effective silencing technique that he utilized often.

But when I was drunk, I really loved being with him. Looking back, I feel as though liquor was the adhesive for our entire relationship. And at the same time, its demise …

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

Anyway, one night I skipped a concert I really wanted to go to (Emilie Autumn — she sings a lot of angry-girl goth music about sexual assault and such, which was there for me at a time I needed it most — do check her out if you’re looking for something like that) so that I could spend time with *Dopey.

It turned out to be a very ironic mistake.

My roommates were home that night, and right as *Dopey and I were about to have sex, he said, “Be quiet, though, because you’re really loud and I hate that.” He could tell that comment made me a little bit sadface, so he amended, “I mean, I hate that they can hear us.”

So we started doing it doggy-style, and he took his phone out to video-tape me (which is something he liked to do a lot, and I didn’t know how to feel about it because I’d never been in that situation before, but he promised me the videos would remain private, so I let it slide as long as the room was dark enough and didn’t reveal my face).

I tried to keep the noise level down, but some moans still managed to escape. He got really frustrated and said, “Come on!! and cupped his hand around my mouth, pounding into me angrily and repeatedly shushing me.

I was immediately triggered.

Now here’s the thing about triggers. There are a lot of different ways to deal with them, and with a lot of patience and practice, those various responses can be controlled (follow that link and search “dealing with triggers,” if you are curious). I hadn’t learned about all of that at the time, and one of my most common coping mechanisms for triggers was dissociation. This is the “freeze” part of the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. And it’s exactly how it sounds: you freeze up, try to be somewhere else — anywhere else than where you actually are — and it makes you feel as if you’re being sexually assaulted all over again. (And dissociation is also a common response to an assault itself, which explains why the victim doesn’t always physically fight back; the mind is capable of so many ways of coping with trauma, and it’s important to be aware of that.)

I was completely unnerved by how much *Dopey seemed to be enjoying this rough-housing (and in retrospect, I believe it to have been for show, for the camera). He was getting off on oppressing me. He was getting angry at me for enjoying myself, so I simply stopped enjoying myself. And I kept wanting to tell him to just stop, but every time I entertained the thought, I imagined the things he might say to me in response:

“Stop taking sex so seriously!

“Why can’t you just react normally?!

“Oh, quit being such a woman!

So I just closed my eyes, held my breath, and waited for it to be over.

Afterwards, I curled up into a ball, trembling and silently weeping, and I guess he just decided not to say anything.

A few days later, *Dopey and I had a huge fight about abortion, in which he revealed to me that his ex-girlfriend had aborted his child (after telling him that she wanted to keep it), and he wept openly in my arms.

As soon as that happened, I decided to keep my pro-choice opinions to myself, because obviously, this topic was to him what rape was to me, and if I ever got up the courage to tell him about my sexual history and expected him to react compassionately, I had better do the same for him here and now.

That night when we had sex, he “accidentally” put it in my ass, and I had to run to the bathroom to cry.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

About a week or so went by, and I guess he started to pick up on the fact that my episodes were actually indicative of something, so he started trying to pull it out of me.

One afternoon, we were sitting on my bed, taking about movies, and he asked me if I’d ever seen Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind.

Duh, I had.

So he asked me if I would ever do that … erase someone from my memory. I immediately thought of *Doc, and said yes, I would. He asked me why. I said, “Because I’d be a different person.” How, he wondered. “I’d be happy.”

We kept talking, and he kept probing. He said that maybe, if I talked about it, I’d feel better. That I’d realize that what happened to me wasn’t my fault, and that it wasn’t personal. I told him that realizing that doesn’t make the trauma go away.

And eventually I revealed to him that I was afraid to tell him about my pain, because I knew that he would just respond by telling me how much more he’s suffered in his life than I have (which is something he was prone to doing — and understandably so, because his life had been filled with tremendous hardships, and I was born privileged).

Then he told me, “Maybe that’s why I’m here — to help you.” But I told him I didn’t want that to be the relationship. That I didn’t need him to sit there and tell me how to feel, that I needed to go through my process if I was ever going to heal.

He said, “I understand.” And I said, “Thank you. That’s all I want from you.”

The conversation moved on, but I could feel the tears coming, so I just proceeded to pound the beer I was drinking to try to achieve enough numbness to the point where I wouldn’t care anymore. It didn’t work, so I eventually excused myself to the bathroom so that I could weep in private.

When I came back, he asked if I was okay, and I lied and said I was.

He said, “I need to fuck you in your butthole.”

I replied, “Then you’ll have to find yourself another girl.”

So he said, “I guess I do, in that regard.”

I felt like he was just kicking me while I was down, so I said, “Fuck you,” and got really moody and quiet. He got fed up with my attitude and got up to leave — and that’s when I realized that I had to tell him. I wasn’t going to allow this to happen again. I had lost *Happy because I hadn’t spoken up, and now I was going to lose *Dopey the same way.

So I said, through choked tears, “I was anally raped, okay? Repeatedly.”

He said he was sorry … but started leaving anyway. Said that he needed to “get his mind off of that now.”

How wonderful for him that he can get his mind off of it.

I started crying harder and told him that he should see someone else, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sexually satisfy him.

He said that he was sexually satisfied, kissed me, and left.

I erupted. I wept for literally five hours straight. It was scary. I couldn’t believe that he would break me down like that and not even stick around to pick up the pieces.

When he came back that night, he said, “I want to apologize to you about earlier, what I said … I didn’t mean to offend you. And I’m sorry.” I said it was okay, and we dropped it.

Of course, it wasn’t okay, but I was so emotionally drained, I didn’t know where to take it from there.

That night, before we went to sleep, he said, “Just don’t fall in love with me, okay?”

What the fuck? Where did that even come from?

I asked what he meant, and he said that he cared about me, but love was just a touchy subject for him right now and he didn’t want to “break my heart.”

He was always confusing me like that. The next day when he came over, one of the first things he said to me was, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we ended up getting married?” I said, “Why do you say shit like that?” He just shrugged and said, “Couldn’t hurt.”

Those comments were just a mild annoyance. After all, I didn’t take love seriously. I took sex seriously. And for good reason.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

A couple days later, we were about to leave to go hang out with my friends, and *Dopey asked me if he could transfer all the files off his mp3 player into my computer.

As I was doing it, I saw some old pictures and pornography of him and his ex-girlfriend. He apologized, said that he forgot they were on there. It was disturbing nonetheless (after all, he had taken some pornographic video of me, and the last thing I wanted to be was just another porn file in his memory card … haha, that sounded strangely poetic).

We started kissing, but he broke the kiss to say, “Man, I wish you sucked dick!!”

Ugh.

This again?

How many fucking times did the broken record that is my life have to skip??

Needless to say, that comment really pissed me off, so I excused myself from the room and tried to cool off in the kitchen. When I went back in, he said he was sorry for what he said. I asked him why he had said it. He said he didn’t know, that he was really drunk.

This probably would’ve devolved into a huge argument, but my friends were waiting for us, and I really didn’t want to stay in and fume over this, so we left, and the anger dissolved with time — and more alcohol.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

After that, we went back to being adorable together. He even started kissing me in public?! Which was weird. But okay, I figured I’d just go with the flow. He also said that I had become his “guardian angel,” and kept making comments about us hanging out over the summer (months into the future), so again, this confused me. But things started sailing really smoothly.

But then weeks later, he brought a movie over for us to watch together that was set in prison.

I asked him if there was any anal rape in it (because people with trauma triggers have to be wary about that kind of stuff), and he said, “No … but if you’re into that, there are a couple of websites we could look at …”

?!?!

I responded to that by asking him why he had to be such an asshole.

He laughed and asked me why I couldn’t be more “open-minded.”

That made me furious. I reminded him that I’d had anal sex. He asked me how it was. What the fuck?! “You know,” I said. “You already know — I told you!” And he said, “Geez, chill out, look, I’m sorry if you had a bad experience or something …”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Why was he acting like I hadn’t told him? I was in shock. He then told me that he didn’t remember me telling him anything and apologized for his “bad memory.” More shock. So he said, “What — were you raped or something?” Yes, I said, repeatedly — “I told you!” 

He said he was sorry that happened to me, and that he wished he had been there to “kick his ass.”

Anyway, after that conversation, I really started to think this kid had been taking one too many hits from the bong.

The next morning, I found porn on my computer browser’s history, and it triggered me. I even ended up having to drop one of my classes as a result of that episode, because it was a test day, but I was in too much of a state of meltdown to leave the apartment.

When *Dopey came back from skateboarding, I showed him how to turn on “private browsing” and asked him nicely if he would do that the next time he watched porn on my laptop.

He apologized and promised that he would.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

A week later, he dropped the L-bomb.

I didn’t know what he meant at first. I assumed he just meant that he “appreciated” me for taking such good care of him (after all, I was giving him a place to sleep and paying for all of his expenses, which became a huge issue over time, and it eventually got to the point where whenever I refused to pay for something he wanted, he would punish me for it emotionally).

Anyway, I hesitated and reciprocated the sentiment.

One afternoon, we had a big fight that came out of nowhere. He said he felt like a burden on me and said he was going to leave — but at the time, I didn’t want him to. We ended up confessing our “love” for each other, and started saying it on a regular basis. We also sort of established ourselves as an actual “couple.” I’d never had a boyfriend before, but I thought that it would be a good experiment — especially since I had been so wounded by casual relationships in the past, that I thought maybe this would help.

Maybe “love” would help.

For awhile, it was really nice. But man, my depression was really starting to bum him out. It was around this time that I realized that it was no way to live. For the first time, my illness was affecting someone else and not just me. I knew I needed Real Help if I was going to be in this relationship. But I didn’t know how, or if I was ready … So I just upped my dosage of alcohol for the time being.

Eventually, I was able to bring myself to make an appointment with CAPS (the Counseling & Psychological Services on campus). The intake that I had to do over the phone was so stressful, I locked myself in the bathroom with a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon crying while I regaled the staff member with my story.

When I went in for my appointment, they told me I’d have better luck at the Women’s Center, because they specialized in sexual assault trauma and would offer me more sessions.

But the strength that it took me just to do that first intake was so draining, I decided to put off calling the Women’s Center.

One night while we were having sex, *Dopey asked if he could come in my mouth. I was hesitant, but eventually said that it was okay. He told me to close my eyes. In the end, he gave me a facial instead, and I felt really bad and humiliated, so I spiraled into a depressive episode. He ignored me.

And the next morning, he lectured me again on how my problems aren’t really all that bad, and that I should just learn to get over them.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

A few days later, it was Dillo Day again. To make a long story short, *Dopey ended up getting black-out drunk and propositioning one of my friends for sex right in front of me. She said, “Won’t Cassy be angry?” And he said, “Oh, we’re not official.”

Luckily, she put friendship first and turned him down.

Now, I had a strong suspicion that he may have blacked out, but of course I wasn’t going to know for sure until he slept it off hours later.

When he finally woke up, I told him what had happened, and he said he was sorry, and that he loved me.

I had had a long time to think (and feel) about it, so I calmly and rationally explained to him that he was the one whose idea this whole “committed relationship” thing was, and if he ever was tempted to cheat on me, I would want him to talk to me about it first so that we could figure out what to do together before he did anything rash. (This is foreshadowing, people, so pay attention.)

After that, we got into a heated argument about spirituality (because he was a believer, and I was not), which was something we ended up doing a lot (and even though I made an effort to not say anything inflammatory, he never put in that same effort for me, so I was often on the defensive while he attacked me) — and eventually, he said: “I’m sorry, I’m just really upset because I have all these needs that aren’t being met.”

So we started talking about blowjobs, and he asked if it was alright if he got them from somebody else. I said that even if he did, I’d feel pressured to do it. Eventually, he said that it was okay, that he was going to stay faithful, because he really wanted our relationship to work.

He even said that if I offered, he wouldn’t let me do it, because he’d know it wasn’t something I really wanted to do.

I told him that I’d always thought that the one man who ever said that to me, I would happily go down on … But I just couldn’t do it. It’s something I’d been grappling with every single fucking second of every single fucking day for the past 2 years, and I

just.

couldn’t.

do it.

He accepted that.

But that conversation started triggering my physical flashbacks again, and my anorexia, and my drinking problem — tenfold. I started worrying that every time *Dopey left the apartment to go “skateboarding” or “bike riding,” that he was actually going to get head from someone.

And I started drinking biblically.

I would start drinking as soon as I woke up each morning, and I kept drinking until I passed out each night. It became a routine. Drunkenness became the closest state to happiness that I was capable of achieving, and so I needed spirits in order to keep my spirits up.

Throughout all this, *Dopey continued to tell me that I was enough — more than enough — and that he loved me.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

Pretty soon, it was the 4th of July — the day before my 21st birthday. My friends and I were having a BBQ get-together, and at this get-together, there was this girl who *Dopey clearly was into. She spoke Spanish and was, like, three times my size. I knew that *Dopey was instantly attracted to her, but I tried to stifle my inadequacies as much as possible so I could enjoy my night. 

As the party progressed, however, I got more and more drunk, and *Dopey spent all of his time sitting on the couch, talking to this girl. At one point, I asked him to dance with me to a song that was playing, and he refused.

I was really inebriated, and really wounded, so I went into my friend’s apartment to cry. A bunch of my friends found me, and it was kind of embarrassing. Eventually, the girl came up and saw me, and I drunkenly pleaded with her not to sleep with my boyfriend. She said she would never do that. I told her that I trusted her — it was him I didn’t trust. She went back outside to tell *Dopey I was in the kitchen crying, so he came inside and retrieved me. He told me I was being ridiculous for feeling threatened by that other girl, that I had “nothing to worry about,” and so we went home and had really rowdy sex. (Feel the foreshadowing building yet?)

I woke up the next morning, on my 21st birthday, with a hangover.

All *Dopey said to me about the night before was, “Take it easy on the alcohol, okay? You get really emotional.”

I still felt that I had had every reason to cry.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

About a week or so later, we had another big fight. One night, he came into my apartment carrying a stereo in his arms and said, “Look what I found for us!”

Now, I knew that he was prone to stealing people’s bikes (which I said he had to keep in the basement, not in my room, because I didn’t want to feel like an accomplice to the crime) and shoplifting. So I was a little shaken by what I was seeing now.

“Where did you ‘find’ that?” I asked him. He told me he’d found it “out in the alley,” and then went back to get “more stuff.”

I wasn’t buying it.

When he came back in, I asked him what the hell was going on. And he told me, gleefully, that someone in the neighborhood had left their door unlocked, so he had gone inside and taken their stereo and their wallet — among other things.

I couldn’t believe how proud he looked. I mean, I knew he was a criminal, and I knew that it was a huge part of his way of life — it’s how he had been conditioned to survive — but what the fuck!? So I blew up at him. I told him that what he did was unconscionable, and that there’s a huge difference between stealing avocados from the grocery store and invading someone’s private residence and leaving with their valuables in tow.

I told him that the stereo was not staying here. And I asked him if he had any compassion at all for other human beings. After all, he was so upset the day his bike had been stolen, so didn’t he realize he was making other people feel that same pain when he acted just as carelessly? And how could he know whether the people who lived in that house were good or bad? Maybe they volunteered at soup kitchens, like he did. Maybe they were born into poverty, like he was. Maybe they were friends of a friend of a friend — how could he know?

He got really angry at me for saying these things, and he said, “I don’t need this. I’m out of here tonight. The shock and fear that I felt when he said that made me crumble instantly into a sobbing mess.

It’s hard to explain. I knew our relationship was far from perfect, but whenever he threatened to leave me, it was like a bomb going off. It’s almost more intense when it’s an abusive relationship, I think, because you’ve invested that much more of your energy and emotions into it, and so it feels as if the real tragedy would be seeing it all end just to culminate in nothing.

He took pity on me then and said that he was sorry, that he wasn’t actually going to leave me.

I told him how terrified it made me when he said things like that. We made up, and he said he would try his best to be a “better person” for me. 

He said, “Let’s never fight like that again. We need to be on the same team.”

I agreed, but I also told him I had my own principles, and that I was going to stand up for what I felt was right, no matter what.

The storm was over, but the stereo stayed in my room for the remainder of our relationship. I hated myself every time that I looked at it, and I staunchly refused to ever use it myself.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

The next time we fought was when a friend of mine from out of town was staying on my living room couch. When *Dopey and I went to bed that night, *Dopey looked really upset, so I asked him what the matter was. He said, “I just … don’t feel satisfied in certain aspects.”

UGH. I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation again. Every time, he said it was okay, but then he’d just bring it up again. (COERCION IS NOT CONSENT.) Why would he say it was okay if it really wasn’t?? And of course, he waited until my friend was staying in the other room, so I couldn’t make a big scene …

Anyway, I scoffed at him, rolled off onto my side and said, “Aagghh, I want to kill myself …”

He said, “That’s very selfish of you to say.”

“But I’m telling you that that’s the way it makes me feel …” I replied.

He paused for a moment and said, “… You’re not for me.”

It was such bullshit. Mere hours before this, while we were out on the town together, I mentioned to him that he was my first boyfriend, and he said, “Hopefully, the last!” I didn’t take that comment seriously, but come onwhat was with all the mind games? How could he build me up like that just to tear me down?? Of course, I know why he did it now, in retrospect … but at the time …

I asked him, “Can I tell you something true?”

He said, sure.

“The sight of an erect penis really frightens me.”

That took a lot of strength for me to say. My track record regarding talking to men about the effects of my sexual assault trauma was not very good, and I was so ashamed of the reality of the situation to begin with, that most of the time, I kept it bottled up inside of me.

His response? “Then you should find yourself a lesbian.”

Yeah, I know. RAGE. That is an insult to all lesbians and sexual assault survivors everywhere. That’s just not how sexuality works!

So that made me really upset. Eventually, he broke down crying, saying that the problem wasn’t me; he just missed his mom so much.

This was a classic *Dopey defense. Every time we fought, he’d play the abandonment card. It took me awhile to realize it, but his entire search for a girlfriend was really just his way of trying to fill a mother-sized hole in his heart. Or maybe it was all just a clever ruse to evoke sympathy from people so they would give him what he wanted.

Whatever it was, I fell for it. Hard.

Especially this time.

I ended up giving him head.

I went under the covers to do it, because I knew that was the only way I’d be able to manage. I asked him if he was about to leave me, and he said no. “Even if I can’t do this?” I asked. Again, he said no. I could only hope that he meant that, because as far as I was concerned, my life was on the line — or what was left of it, at least.

I still felt humiliated as I did it, and immediately afterward, I spiraled into an insufferable depressive episode. I jumped in the shower as soon as it was over and wept. When I went back into the room, before he could say anything, I invoked “tiredness” and asked if we could just not talk about it.

He agreed and went to sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. I was having a complete meltdown. My thoughts were cacophonous and disturbing. I sat on the floor with my computer and tried to distract myself, but I couldn’t focus on anything except the unrelenting, abusive racket inside my head.

*Dopey was roused from his sleep at one point, saw me on the floor, and told me to come back to bed. I told him I really just needed to sit there for a minute. He scoffed, “So stupid … I should have never let you do that … COME BACK TO BED, CASSY.” I told him I couldn’t sleep. He said, “Well, then just let me sleep!” I told him no one was preventing him from sleeping. He answered, “I don’t need this shit. I’m out of here in the morning.” 

So much for him promising not to leave me.

Naturally, I spent the rest of the night feeling as worthless as I had the very first time I’d tried sucking dick and was subsequently shamed and humiliated.

In the morning, *Dopey borrowed my phone to call his stepdad. The conversation was in Spanish, but I thought I heard something about moving some stuff into a garage.

When he hung up, I said, “So … you’re leaving me?”

He said no, of course not. Then he took me in his arms and said, “I’ll never leave you. Ever. Not even if you never do … what you did last night again.”

Then he left to go for a bike ride. I started thinking: maybe if I could just make myself get used to giving head, it wouldn’t be such a big deal anymore. It wouldn’t ruin my relationships anymore. It wouldn’t be the cause of my self-loathing anymore. Maybe this could be my chance to heal, I thought.

But it was so hard, when just the thought of doing it made me fall apart.

I realized now that I had given *Dopey power over me when I told him I was terrified of his threats of leaving. After all, I had just witnessed him put that knowledge to the test the night before, and it had worked.

I considered briefly just leaving him, before he could get the chance. And then I could finally be with myself again and not constantly have to worry about what someone else might do to me.

Besides, I wasn’t sexually satisfied in our relationship either, so was it really worth my beating myself up over just to please him? I got the proverbial “blue balls” every time we had sex. I hated having to do it doggy-style, and I hated how he made me feel like I wasn’t fat enough, that my breasts weren’t big enough, and how he’d just leave porn on my computer for me to find because “oops, I forgot,” and even though I’d ask him again and again to take his dishes to the sink before he left to go anywhere, he only ever did it when he felt like it, and he was never where he said he was going to be when he said he was going to be there, and he wasn’t even trying to find a job, just leeching off of me greedily, and the only money he ever made he spent on weed, and he never went out of his way to do anything nice for me, and sure, he’d tell me he appreciated me, but that was all I ever got — just words, and “I can’t do anything with your easy words!

But this was all just crap floating around in my head.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

About a week later, I decided to go down on him — of my own accord. I thought that if I did it without him pressuring me, maybe I wouldn’t feel so awful.

I was able to face him afterward at least, so that was a good development.

A little while later, though, he said he wanted to do it doggy-style, so we did, but he was really rough, and I cried throughout most of it. I guess he didn’t notice, or he didn’t want to acknowledge it, and I couldn’t bring myself to stop him. I kept hearing *Doc’s ghost-words in my head, admonishing me because if I ever stopped a man before he came, I’d be “ruining the sex” or “taking it too seriously” and I should just learn to “relax.”

After I emerged from the bathroom, where I had gone to stop crying and recollect myself, I asked *Dopey timidly if it was alright if we set some time aside sometime to work on my ever-elusive orgasm. I was so fucking nervous to even bring it up.

He said absolutely, that he was sorry he had been so selfish, he just didn’t know what to do, and he said we could try it any time I wanted. He said he needed me to walk him through it, though.

The problem was, I wasn’t sure if I could. I didn’t really know what I liked because I was in a constant state of dreading the things I knew I didn’t like — and that was all that sex had ever been for me. I was always on defense. I had never been given the opportunity to explore my sexuality for myself; I was just being constantly dragged along for the ride.

That night, I still cried myself to sleep. The embarrassment I felt for being so afraid to tell him how I felt completely consumed me. I was so ashamed of my reticence that stemmed from the ghost-words of *Doc again, rattling around inside my head, telling me that I was “too much work,” “high-maintenance,” “not worth it.”

knew that these were ghosts that only existed in my head. But I had no idea how to release them.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

One night after that, *Dopey and I had the absolute worst fight imaginable.

We had gone to one of my friend’s birthday parties, and that girl was there. Y’know, the one from the July 4th BBQ. I tried to just act normal and not be a “crazy jealous girlfriend,” and everything was actually really fun — until we got home.

*Dopey had gotten waaaay too drunk at the party. I don’t even know how the fight started, but all of a sudden, he just started screaming at me, telling me that I was “worthless,” “weak,” that I was “dumb as a hell” and a “stupid cunt,” that I would never amount to anything, that my friends didn’t even like me, that I was a piece of shit, that I was terrible at giving head, that he was never going to reciprocate, that I should just kill myself, and that every time he said he loved me, it was a lie. 

Eventually, I was just trying to get away from him, but he wouldn’t let me go. He kept following me around, yelling abusive words into my face, and at one point, I found myself standing alone on the back porch — dialing HopeLine

I didn’t think I was on the verge of suicide or anything … But I felt as though I was literally losing my grip on sanity. I was having a full-on anxiety attack, and I couldn’t envision myself making it through the night.

The lady who took my HopeLine call was nice and compassionate. She just sort of repeated everything that I was saying, told me that it sounded as though my boyfriend was being a real asshole — but not in those words, obviously.

After I hung up, I was still completely flipping my shit.

I decided to call my sister.

I bawled and tried to tell her what was happening. Talking to her made me feel a lot better than talking to a stranger from HopeLine had. (Not to knock the service, because I’m glad that it exists; but don’t ever underestimate the potential that you have, as someone’s friend or family member, to help them through a heavy crisis — just by being there to listen.)

Eventually, I went back inside and tried to fall asleep. *Dopey kept muttering hateful things under his breath, and I asked him to please just go to sleep. He told me I wasn’t letting him go to sleep.

What the fuck, he never made any sense, what even was this …

The next morning, he woke up with a terrible hangover. I said, “So when are you leaving?” He looked hurt and said, “You want me to leave??” I was sort of stunned that that was even a question. I told him, “Um … you said some pretty unforgivable things last night.” He looked at me blankly and responded, “What did I say? I don’t really remember …”

I tried to fill him in as best as I could through my incredulity of what he was saying to me now. He said that he was sorry, that he hadn’t meant to say any of it, and that of course he loved me. 

shouldn’t have forgiven him. I knew that how he made me feel was cause for ending a relationship. But I wanted so badly for him not to have meant any of it, for him to take all of it back, for him to try to make up for the damage he’d done — somehow.

So I believed him.

I told him that it was irresponsible of him to drink to that extent. So he said that I could monitor his drinking from then on, whenever we went out together — just as long as I didn’t tell any of my friends that that was the arrangement. (That never really made much of a difference though, since I, myself, was a steadfast alcoholic, so what could I really do for him?)

We kissed and made up.

That night definitely marked a turning point in our relationship. The lows got even lower and more frequent, and the highs became even fewer and farther between.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

Soon it was finally September, so classes had started up again (it was my final year at Northwestern). I also ended up going to the College Feminists’ BBQ that month and speaking with a representative from the Women’s Center about getting myself a counseling appointment, and I was able to do an in-take that same day.

Finally, I was going to be getting Real Help.

On the other hand, *Dopey started verbally abusing me on a regular basis. Whenever we had an argument, he just resorted to name-calling (mainly “bitch” and “cunt”), and then of course, he’d always apologize later and tell me he didn’t mean it.

He also became irrationally jealous and started accusing me of cheating on him with every guy I spoke to (especially one guy in particular, who was another officer on the exec board of my student group).

I started actively trying to take some time apart from *Dopey during this stage, but every time I brought it up, he would threaten me with violence and self-harm/suicide. 

By this point, I was suspecting him of harboring some mental illness of his own (perhaps a personality disorder?), and he seemed clearly to be on hard drugs again. But I had no idea what to do about it — especially since I was always caught in the crossfire of his episodes, which made it extremely difficult for me to react with compassion.

What’s more, he always managed to hide his abusive behavior so well from everyone outside of our relationship. The only times he would lash out at me were when we were alone. It was a classic case of gaslighting. I really started to feel like I was crazy. It was my word against his, and he was such an experienced manipulator. I didn’t stand a chance.

He also seemed to wait to pick a fight until we were about to leave to go someplace. Like this one time, I tried to justify certain post-traumatic behaviors I was exhibiting by telling him more about my rape, and — get this — he said, “You weren’t really raped. If you really hadn’t wanted it, you could have stopped it.”

As soon as I heard that, I told him we needed to break up — that I simply couldn’t be with someone who thought like that. (That’s something called victim-blaming, by the way, and it is Not Good.) Unfortunately, we were on our way over to one of my friend’s apartments for a shindig when we had this conversation, so the argument was cut short, and thus, forgotten after awhile.

The next morning, he actually had the nerve to ask me for a blowjob. 

I told him I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to go down on him again until he reciprocated.

He said he would have reciprocated right then and there if I hadn’t been on my period. (How convenient for him.) And then he continued to plead for a blowjob until I felt like I had no choice. (COERCION IS NOT CONSENT.) So I did it.

It was a pretty low moment for me, considering everything he had already put me through.

Shortly thereafter, we started talking seriously about oral sex and why he refused to go down on me. At first, he said he was just “bad at it.” I assured him that I would never know the difference, since it had never happened to me before.

The next time we talked about it, though, he said he just didn’t like the way my vagina smelled (note: this was 8 whole months into our relationship), and he told me he wasn’t going to reciprocate oral unless I started douching.

(LISTEN UP, LADIES: DO NOT DOUCHEDOUCHING IS HARMFUL TO YOUR VAGINAL HEALTH. DO NOT BELIEVE ANYONE WHO TELLS YOU THAT YOU NEED TO DO IT, AND SORT OUT ANYONE YOU HEAR SPREADING THESE LIES. I’ll probably write an actual blog post in the future about the history of the douche, so sit tight for that, and in the meantime, just continue not douching.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t do any research on the subject first. I just went out, bought ALL THE DOUCHES, and started using them daily (even though the directions say to only use it once a week). I was desperate. I knew I would feel the utmost of shame if I had allowed myself to be coerced into giving head that many times — despite all the trauma I’d already suffered — without ever receiving anything in return.

The next time we fought about it, *Dopey said he didn’t care that I’d started douching, that he just didn’t want to do it. So I told him that if that’s the way it was going to be, I was never going to go down on him again. He said, “Fine, then can I get it from someone else??” I said, “Yeah, but we’ll have to break up.”

For some reason, he still wouldn’t accept those conditions. I was so confused as to what the hell he was even holding onto. Our relationship had gone to complete and utter shit. Why didn’t he just let it die??

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

*Dopey’s insane jealousy also reached the boiling point around this time. He had somehow convinced himself that I was sleeping with this guy who helped me run my student group — someone with whom I had only ever had a business relationship — and it didn’t help that one night, we had planned a group event that involved us “guarding the Rock” in a camping tent overnight, so that we could paint it the next day.

*Dopey didn’t understand why I had to stay overnight in a tent with other people (some of whom possessed penises); he just didn’t seem to grasp the complexities involved with running a student group. But anyway, needless to say, the night of the painting, he came by and picked a huge fight with me. He wound up threatening to beat up the guy he erroneously thought I was sleeping with, and the more I tried to talk him down, the more he became convinced that I was covering something up.

He followed me all around campus while I tried to get away from him. I told him I just needed to be alone, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. He began verbally abusing me again — calling me a “cunt” and saying all sorts of misogynistic things — and I recall threatening to call the police at one point if he didn’t leave me alone, but he just continued to terrorize me until I backed down.

The next day, I had to stay by the Rock for the entire day, because of the nature of the event we had planned which revolved around that site, and *Dopey texted me incessantly, trying to guilt-trip me about ignoring him/abandoning him/not feeding him that day. He even broke my laptop on purpose (for the second time, might I add — he was always trying to prove to me that I was materialistic and spoiled by breaking all my shit), and he confessed to doing it, in hopes that it would get me to come back home to him.

—> NOTE: This is the kind of manipulation that is pervasive in abusive relationships. Another way to deduce abuse from an outsider’s perspective is to be vigilant about your friend’s relationship with his/her cell phone. Are they constantly checking it when they’re away from their partner? Stressing out about their partner’s incessant texting/calling? The abuser could be exerting a very unhealthy level of control over your friend that could eventually escalate into something worse. Make sure you are there to offer support; ask questions and do not judge, simply listen.

That night, I decided that I was 100% certain that I was going to break up with him. But I really needed to get through the busy weekend I had planned with my student group activities before adding all of that extraordinary drama to the mix. So in the meantime, I just told him — sure, go fulfill your sexual needs elsewhere. Fuck whomever you like.

His response to that was just to give me the finger. (What?! He’d been asking for my permission to do that for months; why was it that when I finally granted him that, he acted as if I was being unfair?!)

The next night, my student organization was throwing a pasta party for our group members, and *Dopey tagged along — only for the free food and beer, of course. He ended up just usurping several beers from my friend’s refrigerator and promptly leaving with them upon arriving.

I was so furious and embarrassed. I couldn’t have been more resolved to break up with him.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

The next morning, I confronted *Dopey about breaking up. He completely spun out of control. He called me weak for “giving up” on us. I told him that he couldn’t hold me hostage in this relationship without my consent, to which he retaliated by saying that I couldn’t break up with him without his consent.

Yeah, no, I’m really not sure that’s how it works …

He kept insulting me — and threatening me — but I continued to hold my ground so strongly, that he finally realized I was being serious, so he resorted to crying and accusing me of “breaking his heart.”

He insisted that he needed “one more chance” to “work things out” and to “prove his love.” I told him that I at least needed a break. But I could only get him to agree to one week of separation.

After he left, he sent texts to me the rest of the night, saying he was going to kill himself, that he was drinking himself to death — just trying to guilt me into changing my mind.

I replied, but mostly denied him. (And boy did it take everything that I had!)

Still, I cried all night, feeling such an immense amount of guilt for putting him out on the street in the middle of the night in the cold. As a result, I didn’t have a restful sleep that night either.

He came back over the next morning to pick up some things that he needed. As he was leaving, he told me he loved me. I responded with, “Take care,” but as I was about to close the door, he propped it open with his hand and repeated the words, expectantly. I didn’t say anything. He looked as if he was on the verge of crying. I embraced him and told him I just needed some time, and that I did care about him a lot. He nodded and left, despondent.

As soon as he was gone, I wept. It wasn’t the depressed kind of crying, but the grief kind of crying. I was mourning what I knew was the end. I could feel that it was over. There was no salvaging this wreckage of a relationship. It was really over.

He ended up stopping by later that day, saying that he had been thinking, and that he was sorry for all the hell he’d put me through for the last few months. He promised me that there would be no more suspicions, threats, or insults.

I wasn’t sure I believed him. I mean, we always made up after a big fight. He always promised me that things would be different. And then, inevitably, a few days later, shit would hit the fan all over again. I couldn’t trust him.

——> RELATED: As soon as I started telling my Women’s Center counselor about *Dopey, she said that what I was describing was referred to as “the cycle of abuse” (which always consists of the deceptive “reconciliation” and “honeymoon” periods after the abusive outbursts) and she showed me THIS IMAGE, which completely altered my perception of the relationship I was in:

 

The image that changed my life and how I thought about interpersonal relationships.

 

I was shocked by how many of those controlling tactics *Dopey had been guilty of, and I was half-terrified and half-invigorated to learn that what had been happening to me was, indeed, abuse. Please look it over and ask yourself: am I in a safe, mutually-respectful relationship? <——

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

Days went by, and he wouldn’t stop calling me. I told him that we were supposed to be on a break, which means he needed to stop calling me incessantly. He got all defensive and hurt, told me I should just go fuck “my new boyfriend.” I knew he was just trying to manipulate me yet again, so I tried to brush it off.

Unfortunately, he always managed to weasel his way back in (he still had all his stuff at my apartment, so he was always able to find an excuse).

One night, while he was resting in my bed for a minute after stopping by, I asked him if he wanted to go with me to ROSS (because I desperately needed new clothes), but he said no, that he’d rather just stay in my bed and nap and wait for me to come back.

I went out and bought a pair of jeans (among other things), because *Dopey was always telling me how much he wanted to see me in jeans. But I got waylaid on my way back because the bus that *Dopey had assured me would still be running later wasn’tso I had to walk all the way in the other direction to catch the train, and it was just really late by the time I got back.

Before I went into my room where *Dopey was, I decided to put on the jeans I had just bought — to surprise him.

When I walked in the room and said “Ta-da!” I noticed something odd. The fitted sheet on my bed had been pulled up, and written in black Sharpie on the bedding beneath it were the letters “I FUC.” *Dopey was sitting on my bed, with my computer in his lap, and he was wearing a white wife-beater that had clearly been vandalized by Sharpie as well, but with the completed phrase: “I FUCK MODELS AND FAT BITCHES.” 

Needless to say, I was a little confused. I walked over to him and apologized for taking so long and explained my night’s plight with public transportation.

When I looked at my computer screen, I saw he had pulled up dozens of really explicit pornographic images (remember: he knew very well that porn was a trigger for me) and inserted them into my iPhoto. I exclaimed something like “what the fuck?,” grabbed the laptop from him and started deleting all the images.

After I’d disposed of them all, I discovered that *Dopey had also changed my desktop image to a picture of his ex-girlfriend.

I demanded to know what the fuck was going on. He said, “I’m sorry, I just … you left me here alone for too long … I ended up spending too much time on Facebook …”

Apparently, he’d found a video on my page from a high school production of “Crazy For You!” that I was in, in which I kissed a guy on stage before singing my solo.

I argued, “That was from high school! It was in the script!!” He said he didn’t care, that he wanted me to take it down. I said that I wouldn’t, that I was proud of that performance, and that that video mattered to other people too who were in the number, and my mom was the one who uploaded it anyway.

Then he said he also found a bunch of pictures on my page of me and some guy and who the hell was he. I told him, “He’s one of my best friends — of course we have pictures together! And he’s gay!!” And then he got all defensive and asked how he was supposed to know that.

I was really pissed by this point. It’s not my fault he didn’t know how Facebook worked, and he could’ve tried talking to me first, before getting all mad over such petty little things and then acting all passive-aggressive, vandalizing my possessions and deliberately trying to trigger me. It was simply maddening.

I told him I didn’t have to take this, so I asked him to please leave. He refused. So I told him he had to leave right now. He still wouldn’t.

We ended up getting into a huge shouting match, the height of which resulted in *Dopey shattering my full-length mirror with his fist, grabbing one of the shards of glass from the ground, locking himself in my bathroom with it in his hand, and threatening to slit his wrists unless I told him that I loved him.

Somehow, I managed to talk him out of there without saying anything of the sort (because let’s be honest, he was not behaving lovably, and in that moment, I truly hated him).

When he came out of the bathroom, he was weeping and said that he really needed help. I told him I’d been trying to help him the best that I could, but that I needed help too, and all he ever did was mistreat me. He said I was being insensitive, so he called his brother and after talking to him for awhile, he decided to go home to his stepdad’s house for the night.

I thought that was a great idea.

After he left, I examined the wreckage of my room, not knowing what to do next.

 

From the night *Dopey shattered my mirror with his fist, October 2011. Intimidation through violence is a very common symptom of domestic abuse.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

By the end of the week that was supposed to be our “break”, one of my closest friends invited me over for drinks. She told me that she had heard from her roommate, who had heard from a mutual friend, who had heard from that girl from the July 4th BBQ, that *Dopey had cheated on me with her — months ago.

I wasn’t surprised … but it still felt like a bullet to the heart. Especially when I reflected on all the times he’d lied about it, and how he had been accusing me all this time of being the unfaithful one.

It was a good way to distract me from uncovering the truth, I’ll give him that.

I went home that night, put all of his stuff into garbage bags, and moved them to the storage unit in the basement, so he wouldn’t have any legitimate reason to come into my apartment ever again. I knew that I had to do this, if he was ever going to really leave.

The next morning, when he called me, I told him that I knew about how he cheated on me, that his stuff was in the basement, and that we were over. He tried to justify what had happened — saying that it was only because we had been fighting and he needed a place to sleep one night — and when that excuse didn’t work, he said that it was “only a blowjob” — and when that excuse didn’t work, he said he only did it because she told him that I was cheating on him.

Such complete and utter bullshit.

I hung up on him, and I felt ecstatic. It was a tremendous weight that I had finally escaped out from under. My counselor, all my friends — everyone was so proud of me. And so was I.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

The next day, after counseling, I decided to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate my newfound freedom. I ended up going a little overboard and drinking the entire thing. As soon as I realized I was too drunk, *Dopey called. I wouldn’t have answered it, but I was so inebriated that I did.

He asked me if he could meet me somewhere, to talk. He said he just needed to explain himself. I said no, but he kept badgering me, so I agreed. I knew it wasn’t going to change anything, and it would’ve been nice to end on friendly terms with him — and did I mention I was drunk?

I went to the place we had agreed to meet, and he wasn’t there. I ended up waiting — in the midwestern cold — for a ridiculous amount of time before I decided to go into the nearest building to warm up. That’s when I got a call from *Dopey saying he just got out of work. I told him I’d been waiting for an hour. He said he was sorry and that he’d be right there.

When he got there, he asked if we could go for a walk. I told him that wouldn’t be necessary, and to just say whatever he needed to say and be done with it.

He told me that he knew he fucked up — that he really fucked up — and that if he had known he was going to lose me, he never would have done it, and blah blah blah.

He even asked me then if we could spend just “one more night together.” I laughed in his face.

It was true that that sort of tactic had worked with me before (the only times I ever enjoyed having sex with him was when he was trying to make something up to me after some huge blowout we’d had), but it wasn’t going to work this time.

Then he beseeched me to at least sit with him for awhile on the rocks by the lake. I asked him what the point of that would be. He said, “I need to walk away from this knowing that I had this time with you, that I tried.”

I guess I was touched, or I took pity on him or something, because I ended up granting his request.

We sat on the rocks for hours. He broke down weeping, telling me how much he regretted what he did, how he was going to miss me, and he enumerated all the things he loved about me. He said he’d been sleeping in the storage unit the past few nights (such a lie; he wasn’t there the night before last when I threw all his stuff out). I asked why he didn’t just call up that girl if he needed a place to sleep. He said he only wanted me and no one else. He told me how his heart was broken, but said it was all his fault — that he did this. I admired him for admitting that.

He then asked me for a hug. I said, “Would that really help? I don’t want to make this any harder for you than it already is …” He said that the only thing that would help would be having my arms around him, so I held him for awhile as he sobbed.

I was being careful to keep my armor up throughout all of this. I knew he could very well just be trying to manipulate me some more, but I couldn’t believe some of the things that he was saying. He told me that he realized now that he hadn’t been showing me that he had my best interests at heart, that deep down he just wanted me to feel happy and free, that he would never forgive himself for making me feel trapped and controlled, and that even though he wanted me back — and that he was going to keep trying and trying and never give up — he really just wanted what was best for me, and if leaving him was going to make me happy, then he knew he’d have to accept that.

He also declared that the problem with our relationship was that he wasn’t trying hard enough, but now that he had a new job, he was going to work hard, save money, and prove to me that he could be independent and responsible. He then tried to reassure me that he was never after me for my money.

We held each other for a long time and cried.

After awhile, he said he really wasn’t looking forward to sleeping without me that night. I suggested that we could just sit out on the rocks all night together and watch the sun rise, if he wanted. He said that sounded good, but that we were going to need some beers and blankets. We went back to my apartment for those supplies (I didn’t let him in, though, of course), and then we ended up sitting out on the beach together, drinking and snuggling.

I really felt that this was the right thing to do. I didn’t want our relationship to go down in flames; I wanted this beautiful, peaceful, perfect end. We had been through so much together, after all. I didn’t want us to go straight from being lovers to being rivals.

Eventually, he tentatively tried to kiss me. I received it well, and then we started making out feverishly. It was kind of awesome; there was this burning desire that had never been there before (probably due to the fact that it felt a little risky and dangerous, and that he was so determined to win me over, but I didn’t care about all that — it just felt so good).

We ended up making love on the beach. He even made a move to go down on me at one point, but I stopped him because I was still spotting a little bit from my period, and I didn’t want him to have to endure that.

After awhile, it got way too cold, and I asked him if he just wanted to go back to my place. He said, “That is entirely your decision.” Boy, did I love hearing that. I told him, “Alright, we’ll go up to my room — but it’s just going to be this one. time. He nodded in understanding. He even paid (!!!!) for the snacks that we got from 7-11 on the way back.

When we got to my room, we made love again. It was pure passion, for the first time. He asked me if he could take me out to breakfast the next morning. I told him I would love that. Then, we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

The following day, we did end up going out for breakfast, and he did in fact pay for the meal. I was impressed by his initiative and by the fact that he actually followed through with something for a change, so I asked him if he wanted to accompany me to a movie I’d been looking forward to seeing for months, and he did.

After the movie, we went back to my place for mimosas and Scrabble (finally! He was a good sport about losing, too).

I even ended up not going out with my friends that night like I had planned, because I was just having too good of a time with *Dopey. I wanted to milk this weekend for everything it was worth, because he was being so wonderful to me. We made love again and watched another movie together.

After that, though, we got revved up to have sex again, but from behind this time. When he entered me, it hurt, so I started crying … And then I realized: wait a minute. We’re not even together anymore; I don’t have to take this shit! So I asked him if we could just stop and do something else instead. He reacted so sweetly and said, “Of course we can … We don’t have to have sex.”

He pulled me into his arms and I immediately erupted into tears. He asked me why I was so sad, and I said I didn’t know. Then he told me that he loved me, and I said, through choked tears, “I guess I just … finally feel like you do.”

He held me tighter after that and said that he was all mine, and that he was going to try 120% to be perfect for me.

I responded to that by reminding him that in the morning, it was going to have to be over. He said that he realized that. So I thanked him for the past few days. He thanked me too. Then we fell asleep.

The next morning, I had to wake up early to go to work. When we said goodbye, he told me he’d love to take me out for dinner sometime. I told him we needed to start small. He agreed, and then he left.

Even though things quickly turned to shit again after that, I still don’t regret having done it. It was the most romantic weekend of my entire life, and while it didn’t make up for the past, it gave me something nice to remember him by.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

A few nights later, he asked if he could come over and “hang out.” I said that I had a lot of homework to do, so we could only hang out for a little bit. When he showed up, he was high out of his mindI had always hated seeing him like that. It was so … not sexy. And he was always so much less considerate and less interesting when he was high. Needless to say, he was really getting on my nerves, so after a couple hours, I said he needed to leave so I could get back to my work.

He got all defensive and started acting all entitled to stay the night. Well, I was having none of that. I kicked him out, and then he kept me up all night sending me these really angry text messages, thanking me sarcastically for making him sleep outside in the cold rain.

Another night, he got angry that I hadn’t invited him to hang out with me and my friends, so he started texting them, and that’s when I realized this mess could potentially spin out of my control and affect other people’s sanity and safety, not just mine.

The next day, when he called me, I told him he really needed to stop and just leave me alone.

He continued trying to guilt me into seeing him, threatening that he would seek revenge, trying to find ways to get his foot back in the door (e.g., he needed to pick up “his” mini-fridge [which he probably stole] and “his” air-conditioning unit [which I had rightly paid for]). I probably would’ve caved if it hadn’t been for my counselor telling me again and again that my safety should always come first, and that if I felt the need to call the police about his harassment, then I shouldn’t hesitate.

Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. He was an illegal immigrant, and I just … couldn’t do something like that to him and his family. I decided to just block his phone number instead. When he figured out I’d done that, he “got a new number” and started harassing me with that one, so I had to block that one too.

He continued harassing me — and even stalking me. He would go to great lengths to figure out where I was, and of course, he knew where I lived, so he would habitually come by and throw pebbles at my window. To this day, I feel a jolt of terror every time I’m sitting in my room and I hear a sound reminiscent of a pebble hitting my window … Because of this, I kept the blinds closed all day long and kept all of the lights off each night. And every time I heard a skateboard or a bicycle go by, I would panic and hit the floor. I also cut off my alcohol consumption entirely, because I realized how vulnerable to attack it made me. I needed to stay sober, so that if I ever ran into him, I’d at least be thinking clearly.

Eventually, I knew I had to tell my roommates about what was going on, because what if he came to the door while I wasn’t there and told them some lie about why he had to come inside? He could steal or destroy my (or their) property — behavior that I already knew too well was not beneath him.

It wasn’t fair that I had to live in such fear. It wasn’t fair that I had to feel so unsafe in my own home. But that’s how terrorism works. He was a terrorist, and I was a victim of terror.

It took many months for his stalking behaviors to calm down, and while there hasn’t been an incident in a long time, still don’t feel safe in this town. I stopped feeling safe here the first time *Doc ever raped me — 3 years ago — and everything just snowballed from there. Luckily, I’ll be moving to a new environment at the end of the month, so from here on out, it’s just going to be a clean break. A fresh start.

 

I am a survivor, and this is my story (PART TWO)

TRIGGER WARNING: No-holds-barred descriptions of sexual violence and strong language to follow (also, discussion of depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and anorexia). Please, practice self-care in reading this, as I made sure to do so in writing it. Also, please be mindful of your comments, because this is very delicate subject matter and … pretty much as personal as it gets.

 

•°*•*°• . CHAPTER 4 •°*•*°• .

Date Rape

Back at school, I finally moved into an apartment off campus. I tried to keep up my exercise routine, but since I was out of my parents’ house, my anorexia was able to thrive uncontested, so I could barely do 20 minutes of yoga a day without feeling faint. Unhealthy, I know, but it sure made me look (and feel) amazing.

And I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

There was a man who worked at the Jamba Juice in my student union who was pretty keen on me. Let’s call him *Grumpy, shall we? *Grumpy had been hitting on me for about a year already, but starting this particular September — the September of my junior year — he started laying it on really thick.

I thought that, even though I didn’t want to have sex ever again, maybe sleeping with someone else would turn *Doc into a distant memory for me. So one afternoon, *Grumpy suggested we get dinner sometime. I gave him my number, and he called me that night.

I learned that he was 34 years old, divorced with kids, working two jobs. One of his kids was a daughter, which made me feel relieved, because I thought that that would have conditioned him to be more respectful toward women (especially women like me who were significantly younger than him).

I was wrong.

The first night we spent together, he was having some trouble maintaining an erection, so he tried to get me to have anal and oral sex with him. I said no. Then, at several intervals throughout the remainder of the evening, he said, in his frustration, things like, “Ugh, I wish you’d sucked it!!”

He also made a lot of comments, suggesting that I had so much to learn, and that he was going to “teach me.” It was the same condescension I received from *Doc on various occasions, and it really made me feel uncomfortable and small … and somewhat threatened.

We talked on the phone a couple of times after that night.

During one of our conversations, he kept ragging on me about the oral sex thing, saying, “I really wish you’d done that other thing that I like …” So I bitterly and disingenuously replied, “Sorry.” He replied, “It’s alright, I’m not going to rush you.”

How considerate.

That comment really pissed me off. So I angrily answered, “Well, if you’re only staying with me because you’re hoping I’ll change, then that’s not a very good reason, and you know it.”

His brilliant response? “Oh, quiet, woman! Don’t start with that!”

Where do I even begin to unpack that one?

Anyway, we had a tiff for awhile, and eventually he said he had to go, but that he’d call me later. As soon as I hung up, I crawled up into the fetal position and had another typical breakdown, replete with tears and suicidal thoughts.

He called me back twice that night. I didn’t answer.

The next night we saw each other, I asked him to pick up a bottle of Captain Morgan on his way to my place (as I wasn’t old enough as of yet to buy it myself), and I said I would pay him back as soon as he came over.

We started having sex for awhile, but I really wasn’t feeling into it. I stopped him and took a couple of swigs of rum, and he commented: “Yeah, baby, drink up. Maybe if you get drunk enough, you’ll do something else …” 

Yeah, right. “Not going to rush you” my ass.

After that, we started having an argument about the existence of God (for the record, he started it, not me), and the next thing I knew, I woke up alone and naked at 5 AM, my make-up smeared all over my face and my sheets, both of my pillows mysteriously out of their cases, I had the worst hangover I had ever experienced in my life (even to this day), and there was vomit all over the bathroom floor.

But the worst of it was that, playing and replaying through my head were two blurry, brief snapshots of memories: one of his dick in my mouth, and the other one of me running to the bathroom with the intention of puking.

But that was it. That was all I could remember.

That’ll teach me to drink liquor on a 3-day-long empty stomach.

I texted *Grumpy and told him that I totally blacked out and was wondering what the hell happened. It took him three days to call me back. When he did, he told me that I started going down on him (he didn’t mention the level of coercion or force that it took to get me to that point, but I can imagine), but that I had to stop as soon as I began bawling and talking about my abusive ex-lover (aka: *Doc). Then, according to *Grumpy, I demanded that he return the two 20 dollar bills I had given him for the alcohol and proceeded to flush them down the toilet. (Allegedly.) Next, he said I got really angry about him not wanting to stay the night, locked myself in the bathroom for, like, an hour, and I didn’t respond when he knocked on the door, so he decided to just leave.

He sounded so angry as he was telling me this story. I apologized over and over again, saying that I didn’t have any control over myself because I had blacked out (and apparently, passed out), but he continued to yell at me. He said that I shouldn’t even be drinking and that I was somehow being abusive by losing control like that.

All I could think to do was apologize.

The next day, I went by Jamba Juice to give him the money he said I still owed him (even though I figured there was a good chance he was lying about that, just to scam a little extra cash off of me), and he insisted that we needed to talk. He said he’d call me later. I told him not to bother, but he was determined to.

When he called me, it was just to say that he really enjoyed me sucking his dick the other night before I stopped.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

In the midst of all of this drama, *Doc texted me. I distinctly remember entertaining the thought that I kind of … missed him, actually.

I mean, I tried going out into the real world and having a sexual experience without him — with *Grumpy — and that was a complete disaster too. At least *Doc was capable of not talking about blowjobs for 5 seconds … And the more I thought about it, the better I managed to convince myself that everything that had been wrong with my relationship with *Doc was my fault, that he had only been trying to help me explore my sexuality, and blah blah blah …

So I decided to text him back.

A couple of days later, *Grumpy called me while I was in Chicago seeing Louis CK perform live. He left an angry voice message about how I never call him anymore. I called him the next day to apologize for not answering. He replied, “Girl, when I call you, you should act like it’s God calling you!”

Ugh.

Naturally, I responded by telling him that I no longer wanted to see him. When he asked me why, I said that it was because I couldn’t give him what he wanted. He essentially hung up on me, but a couple of days later, I saw him at Jamba Juice, and he said that he “missed me.” I explained very thoroughly how the way he was pressuring me to give him head made me uncomfortable, but he just tried to deny that he had been doing any such thing. I got frustrated trying to talk sensibly to him, so I just walked away.

The next day, I ran into *Doc. We had a nice, light-hearted conversation, and started texting again. Which led to us seeing each other again.

And to be honest, it felt different this time. Mostly because I had come to the conclusion that I was a terrible lover, that I brought absolutely nothing to the table, and so I figured I would just let *Doc do whatever he wanted to me — no matter how it made me feel — because I figured I owed him that much for all the hell I’d put him through.

(N.B.: One of the signs of an abusive relationship that you can deduce as a third-party observer is that the relationship ends over and over and keeps starting up again. If you notice this happening to one of your friends, be sure to make yourself available to him/her for support. Do not blame the victim or tell them what you think they should do. They have had enough control stripped of them already.)

I sunk even lower into depression during this period; I remember distinctly feeling as though I was the embodiment of the walking dead. The only time I ever felt remotely alive was when I was with *Doc, because I had been reduced to nothing more than his sex toy. I had no other purpose.

I’ve always considered this phase of our relationship to be one where he didn’t actually rape me, but that’s only because I stopped fighting back. He had drained all of the fight out of me by this point, and I was just a hollow shell of the person I used to be.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

Now, someone else came into the picture at around this same time, and he’s the only one whose identity I am actually happy to protect in this story, because he is, indeed, a good, well-intentioned man. I’m only mentioning him now because I think my experience with him contributes to the whole point of this epic.

And I’m going to call him *Happy, because it suits him.

So, I met *Happy through my student group. He was a grad student as well, a self-proclaimed feminist, and we had been good friends for almost a year by the time we slept together. As soon as we got to his bedroom, he started making a move to go down on me, but I stopped him. When he asked me why, I said that it was because I wasn’t comfortable reciprocating. He said that that was fine, that he just wanted to make me feel good. I said, “Then just fuck me.”

So he did.

I ended up walking out on him for no good reason that night. I still to this day don’t understand why I did it. Maybe I was afraid to be with someone who would treat me with respect. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for it. Maybe I didn’t think that I deserved it. Who knows.

Alas, I felt guilty about what I’d done, so the next time I went over to his place, I naturally brought him a homemade pie as atonement.

But before that happened, I saw *Doc for one last time.

We didn’t have sex right away that night. Instead, we started arguing about free will vs. determinism, and he accused me of thinking so critically to the point of lacking empathy for other human beings. (Oh, the irony.) He attacked the way that I lived my life, claiming that his lifestyle was superior to mine because he was a pleasure-seeker and I was a truth-seeker, so naturally, he was happy and I was depressed. Then he started trying to school me on sadomasochism, saying that the kind of sex we’d been having can actually be good — with a “willing masochist,” that is — and that he thought that I was a closeted masochist who just hadn’t seen the light yet. He also bragged, at one point, about how many virgins he’d deflowered, and made a point of mentioning how much worse at sex they were than their older, more experienced counterparts.

So I just laid there feeling thoroughly inadequate and belittled and wanting to no longer exist.

He told me to get on top of him, so I did, and I rode him till he came. Then he turned on the pr0n channel on his TV and made me watch it, making comments like, “Ooh, yeah, that’s such a great position, we should do that, it’s so relaxing, mmm …”

It made me feel sick. I suddenly wondered what I was even doing there, with this man who made me feel so terrible and objectified and shamed me for not being kinky enough. I just closed my eyes and waited for it to be over.

At one point, he asked me to give him a massage, so I did. And I stayed the night and hoped he would have sex with me in the morning (because that was usually the routine, and he hadn’t even touched me all night), but when we woke up the next morning, he ignored his morning wood and said he had to leave to go to an appointment.

I left and cried all the way home. Suddenly, the words that my best friend (and confidante) had uttered over a year ago popped into my head. In the beginning, when *Doc had first begun to sexually abuse me, she had said to me:

“Cassy … you will know when you’ve had enough.”

And as I walked home that morning after seeing *Doc, it became all too clear to me: I had had enoughIt really was over this time. That was indisputable. So I skipped all of my classes that day because I was too busy laying in bed listlessly and falling apart.

And that was the last time I ever slept with *Doc. (No, really.) I still ignore his calls when they come and refuse to acknowledge him when he approaches me on the street.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

A week or so later, I slept with *Happy again. He was incredibly sweet and respectful, which was still throwing me for a loop. But at one point, we were laying in his bed, talking, and I saw that he was hard. He started stroking himself and he gave me this look, and … I just knew exactly what he was going to say before he said it: “I know you’re not into it, but … I really wish you would taste my cock.”

I scoffed and turned away from him. He thought it was funny … but then he realized I was genuinely upset and said he was only kidding. I still couldn’t look at him. So he stroked my arm and said, “I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do. You know me. Have I ever been that kind of person?” I concurred that no, he wasn’t. So he said, “Then why would I do that?”

But I didn’t know how to answer that. It was such a good question. Why would anyone do that? I still don’t know. But they do, and that’s the point.

He asked me not to be upset with him. I told him that I just needed a minute. We laid in silence for a long time. Eventually, he fell asleep, but I just stared at the wall for hours, wishing I could just be someone else. Why did I have to be me? Would I ever be able to satisfy anyone? It seemed that no matter how much I gave, men were always going to be pushing me for something more. Sex was going to be a constant tug-of-war for me, forever. Why couldn’t I just be enough??

We had sex again in the morning, and it was very pleasant. But I couldn’t un-know the fact that he couldn’t accept me the way that I was, and I hated how much I resented him for that.

In retrospect, I could have handled the situation much better, and he certainly didn’t deserve to be the object of my resentment, which was only a culmination of so many other exhausting exchanges that had come before him and had ended up breaking me down in front of someone who had only ever been kind to me.

Needless to say, he never called me after that. I understood why. After all, it was completely his prerogative whether to sleep with me or not. And in a way, it was kind of refreshing to meet a guy who wasn’t going to just continue seeing me with the intention of trying to change me.

But what hurt was that he completely wrote me off. I had sent him a few scattered, platonic text messages over the next couple of months (texts that I would’ve sent anyway, even if we hadn’t slept together twice), but he never replied to them.

It seemed to me as though I wasn’t just useless to him as a lover, but I was useless to him as a friend as well.

This realization didn’t help. I, once again, resolved to never have sex again, and continued to break down at every opportunity, because I apparently wasn’t worth a single, solitary damn.

(P.S. — I’ve since cleared the air with *Happy, and we’re on friendly terms again. Communication is key!)

A picture I sketched in December 2010.

I am a survivor, and this is my story (PART ONE)

TRIGGER WARNING: No-holds-barred descriptions of sexual violence and strong language to follow (also, discussion of depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and anorexia). Please, practice self-care in reading this, as I made sure to do so in writing it. Also, please be mindful of your comments, because this is very delicate subject matter and … pretty much as personal as it gets.

 

As I roughly explained in my pilot post and will reiterate more clearly here, my goals in publicly sharing my story are as follows:

1) To give a detailed first-hand account of how sexual assault, in its variety of forms, can — and does — occur in the real world.

2) To give fellow survivors a name for what happened to them (understand that we, as a society, are typically not given a comprehensive — nor accurate — definition of what sexual assault actually is, and for this reason, many survivors end up suffering in silence for months or even years without knowing why, which means that they are unable to find support when they need it most, i.e., THIS).

3) To give those who are unfamiliar with sexual violence an inside look into (a) all of the complex issues that are interwoven between sexuality, violence, relationships, and abuse, and (b) the various ways in which the psychology of a victim can respond to said abuse.

4) To dispel widespread myths and misconceptions about all of the above, and in doing so, generate a safer, more understanding, and more informed environment for sexual assault survivors and friends to cohabit. :)

 

*Disclaimer: All of the individuals in this story have been given whimsical pseudonyms after Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs — however much I may wish that I didn’t feel compelled to protect their identities.

**A second disclaimer: This is a VERY LONG-WINDED story. I could have edited it down significantly (and believe me, I did), but I believe that every bit of it speaks volumes of commentary to the way men and women are socialized in our culture, the inadequacy of sex education in our country, and the general failure of our society to speak candidly and honestly about sex and sexuality. So do keep those things in mind as you read.

 

•°*•*°• . CHAPTER 1 •°*•*°• .

“Snow White” Loses Her Virginity

(But first, HERE‘s a cute bunny .gif before we start, because shit’s about to get real in a second, and you might need that on hand later to remind yourself that the world’s actually okay sometimes.)

 

Flashback to April of 2009.

I am 18 years old, a freshman at Northwestern University, and a total loser with no friends.

Not that I’m complaining, it was kind of fun for awhile. I had been waiting my entire adolescence to feel this On My Own. But in retrospect, it would have behooved me to have had some sort of a support system around me for when life started throwing me curveballs …

Anyway.

One of my favorite On My Own activities at the time was going to the movie theater alone, and Saturday afternoon was the perfect time to do it. On this particular Saturday afternoon, I went to see a French film called Paris 36 — really good, I recommend it — and as I was leaving the theater, I saw a man sitting on the benches in the lobby, staring and smiling at me. I gave him a half-hearted, polite smile back and briskly left the building, put on my headphones (“When David Heard” by Eric Whitacre — powerful stuff), and started walking home.

I had gotten to the end of the block when I saw the same man I’d seen sitting in the theater jog up beside me and start saying things.

I paused my music and, donning my natural Resting Bitchface, started trying to assess this man’s level of danger to me.

He told me he was a grad student at Northwestern and claimed to have seen me many times in “the language building.”

I was a Linguistics major studying two languages, so it wasn’t implausible.

He told me his name — which for all intents and purposes is hereby going to be *Doc — and I reluctantly gave him mine. We walked and talked together for awhile. His jovial demeanor led me to believe that he was not an immediate threat, but I remained skeptical and kept my responses short and guarded.

He invited me to see a movie with him. I declined. We soon came to the junction where we had to part ways. He suggested that we go for coffee sometime. I said, “Um … yeah … I mean, I’ll probably just see you around?” (After all, he’d allegedly seen me on campus before, so no need to be hasty in making plans.)

At this point, I was just trying to end the interlude in any way that I could; no stranger had ever pursued me to this extent before, so I was in rather unfamiliar territory.

Then he gave me his number. I took it, figuring that I didn’t have to ever use it. But then he asked me for mine. I was thinking I could just give him a fake one, but I surprised myself when my real number ended up coming out instead.

Oh well. I supposed I could always just ignore his call when it came.

As soon as I got home, however, I got to thinking, and I realized that this could very well be my one, single chance to lose my virginity! At last … ! Okay, just to put it into perspective, I had never been in a relationship before — I had barely even kissed a guy (only once outside of Spin-the-Bottle and high-school theater productions — but that’s another story), so my track record didn’t fill me with much hope for a sex life.

I had also been “the fat girl” all my life, and didn’t realize at the time that fat girls could get laid too. So as I was reveling in the irony of the fact that one week prior to this encounter with *Doc, I had written an entry in my diary about coming to terms with the fact that I would probably be a virgin for eternity, I started growing continually excited by the prospect of actually. having. sex. for the first time.

Another important thing to understand is that I was never much the romantic type. I was the girl who was always rolling her eyes at the concept of “true love,” never striving to “live my life on one side of an ampersand,” and so it followed that I really didn’t care who I lost my virginity to, as long as the job got done.

Besides, men were always complaining that women took sex “too seriously,” and I definitely did not want to embody that horrible persona of a girl who could not distinguish “sex” from “love.” Unfeeling, emotionless sex, with no strings attached; that’s how I heard that all teh menz liked it, and so that’s the way I was determined to like it as well. Besides, if I actually cared about finding a man I could trust before having sex, wouldn’t that make me an uptight, sexually-repressed prude??

A sad — and dangerous — state of mind to be in, I know now, but welcome to what it’s like to be a teenaged girl.

Anyway, *Doc and I met up at Starbucks the next day and did the typical getting-to-know-each-other routine. We talked about family, school, general thoughts about the universe. I learned that he was 26 years old, born in Iran, studying Engineering. He was an atheist, too — like me.

Then we spent a large chunk of time decrying feminism.

(I realize now, in retrospect, that I should have considered the things he said during this portion of the conversation to be “red flags.” But at the time, I thought that “feminism” was just that horrible thing that men didn’t want women to have anything to do with, so I just adopted that mindset and pretended that it was something to be proud of.)

After awhile, we started discussing movies that we liked, and I mentioned some movie he’d never heard of, so we decided to rent it at Blockbuster and proceeded back to his place to watch it.

I was on my period, but I wasn’t sure of the protocol regarding when to bring up that fact, so I continued to wait.

While we were sitting on his couch, watching the movie, he made some weird attempts at kissing me. I don’t know, it was really weird, and it just wasn’t working. At one point, he got frustrated and exclaimed, “Are you shy?!” I replied, “I’m … inexperienced.” He probed, so I admitted to him that I was a virgin. His choice response was, “First time’s the best time!”

Now, not even I was too virginal to not know that was bullshit … But we started making out anyway. This was also the first time I had ever made out with anyone, and I knew that I had no idea how to do it right, but I tried my best.

After awhile, he got frustrated with me again and growled, Explore!! and attacked my lips once more. The hell if I knew what that was supposed to mean. Anyway, we got to second base and everything, but I didn’t feel like I was enjoying anything that was happening. He was just so rough with me … but I assumed he knew what he was doing, so I didn’t say anything.

Then, I told him that I wanted to wait until my period was over to have sex. He said he didn’t mind that I was on my period, but I insisted that it mattered to me. He continued to try to get me to “put out” by making very leading moves, and I had to continually stop him from going too far. Eventually, he drove me home, and that was that.

At least, for the time being.

Starting the very next day, I began starving myself. Now, for those of you who are unaware, anorexia is a mental illness. It is not a “prolonged fast.” It is not a “strict diet.” When you are anorexic, you lose your appetite for food. Your brain tells you that you are not hungry, and the thought of eating literally makes you feel sick. And when you do eat, no matter what you eat, and no matter how little you eat of it, you feel as much guilt and self-loathing as would typically follow an eating binge (and in some cases, occasional binging is also involved in the process).

And all the while, you experience the illusion of total control.

Or at least, that’s how it manifested with me.

I experienced the onset of this illness for the first time as soon as I became aware that the loss of my virginity was imminent, and from that moment on, sex continued to be the trigger of my episodes in one way or another. Sex is not the trigger for every person who suffers from anorexia, but it most certainly has been for me.

I will write more about anorexia on this blog at some point in the future, but for right now, all I’m going to say is that sufferers of anorexia don’t stop eating completely (we have to eat before we pass out, at least), you don’t have to be skeletal in order to be anorexic, and in the first month-and-a-half of my being sexually active, I dropped around 30 lbs. due to starvation. It was pretty bad.

About a week later, I lost my virginity to *Doc. I don’t remember much, except for that it was incredibly painful and bloody (and that he tried to convince me beforehand that it wouldn’t be). And also that, at one point during the sex, I asked him to try to be gentler, and he said that he would try, but he didn’t really.

But who cares? I had finally lost my virginity! And I felt awesome! Really, I did. I felt all empowered and shit. And sexy. (Although, that could have just been the eating disorder talking.)

Looking back on it, I wonder how I could have evolved sexually from there if only I had stopped seeing *Doc after that night. Moved on to someone else. Someone more respectful. Someone who listened. Someone who cared. How would that have looked? How would that have felt?

But I digress.

 

•°*•*°• . CHAPTER 2 •°*•*°• .

Partner Rape

Things proceeded pretty favorably for the next few weeks. The sex was enjoyable, although much of it was “angry sex,” because we didn’t actually get along very well. But in a way, it was … special.

As I mentioned before, I didn’t really have any friends yet at school, and this was the most intimate relationship I had ever been in. The combination of those two factors made me feel as though I had created some kind of a retreat — a sort of “home away from home” — for myself. A place that was a secret, a place that [I thought] was safe.

But then … something happened. And it took me two-and-a-half years to figure out what. But it marked the beginning of an end for me.

It was the first night that I had slept over at his apartment. I woke up the next morning, and he was hard. We engaged in light-hearted conversation about what we were each going to do that day while he retrieved a condom from his closet. I was so excited, because of course, I was someone whose sexuality had just been awakened for the first time, and so my libido was at an all-time high.

He climbed into the bed, looked at me, and said: “Roll over.”

I was totally unprepared. I assumed we were just going to do it doggy-style. So I rolled over.

The next thing I knew, he had penetrated me anally. No lube. No ease-of-entry. No warning. screamed. One of his hands was pulling my hair, and the other was around my neck while he pounded me. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like I was going to pass out. At one point, I said, “Wait! Wait! I … need a breather …” He actually did stop. I turned over, and he asked me if I could breathe. I told him I was done with that for the day. He was disappointed, but proceeded to have vaginal intercourse with me.

(Oh, BY THE WAY: ladies, don’t go directly from anal to vaginal sex! You could get a UTI! Also: always urinate after you have sex! If you don’t, you could get a UTI! You don’t want to get a UTI! Trust me, I speak from precedent.)

When I went to wash up afterwards, I discovered that I was covered in so much blood, I wasn’t sure if I could go home right away. The feeling of isolation and fear that I felt in that moment as I examined the wreckage that was my body is still palpable to me now.

I used his shower — still in a complete daze — and when I emerged, he asked if I wanted to get some breakfast. I told him I didn’t eat anymore, and he called me stupid. (How Not to Confront Someone About Their Mental Illness 101.)

Then, he took me home. And I could not sit down or attempt a bowel movement without excruciating pain for at least three days.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

The next night I saw him, we discussed oral sex over brandy.

I had always sort of been turned off by the idea. From what I had experienced of our culture, it seemed to me that blowjobs had become more important to men than vaginal intercourse, and that really pissed me off.

Still, *Doc really wanted me to do it.

While we were standing in his kitchen that night, he retrieved some yogurt from out of his fridge, and as he fed me a spoonful of it, he spread it all over my lips and chin, while giving me this sick, perverted look. I had seen enough pornography to pick up on the innuendo. Needless to say, I was really creeped out. I just didn’t feel … good. Something about the way he was looking at me … I just try not to think about it.

After we had sex, we played some music for each other. He was really obsessed with the song “Caribbean Blue” by Enya. Played it on repeat while doing the stupidest dance. I can’t listen to that song anymore; it really sets me off, and in this next bit, you’ll discover why … (On Triggers.)

So he started pressuring me to have anal sex with him again. I told him repeatedly that I didn’t want to, because it had hurt too much — not just during, but for days afterward.

So then he asked me for oral sex — as if it was the least that I could do, if I wasn’t going to take it up the butt.

I reiterated that I would rather not do that either. But he told me that he wouldn’t fuck me again unless I went down on him. (COERCION IS NOT CONSENT.) I still seemed unsure, so he kept bargaining with me. I eventually assumed the position, muttering “This is so bad …” and I attempted to give him a blowjob. It was challenging. While I struggled with it, he upped the ante: “I’m not going to fuck you again unless you take it all the way to the hilt.”

The bastard.

Well, I tried. And I gagged. He had his hand on the back of my head, so I asked him to please remove it. He got all defensive, but complied. I kept trying, but I kept gagging, and with tears coming out of my eyes, I told him that I wanted to stop, that I just couldn’t do it. He huffed, “Fine,” got out of bed, went to his computer to replay that stupid fucking Enya song for the millionth time, and proceeded to act like I wasn’t even there.

Feeling an unprecedented amount of shame and inadequacy, I threw the covers over my head and really did try to disappear.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

The next month or so of our affair continued just as tensely. He continued to pressure me in regard to anal. He said that if I did it, he’d “like me better.” I said that I didn’t care, that I never asked him to like me to begin with. So he said, fine, and that I’d just have to “deal with the consequences.” He was always so good at ignoring me when he wanted to get something out of me. Neglect was one of his most powerful weapons of manipulation.

But I didn’t understand any of that at the time. I just wanted to feel wanted and worthy, and that’s precisely what made me such a vulnerable target in his eyes.

I was also coming home every night after seeing him with bruises all over my lips, breasts, arms, legs. Intense bruises. I felt branded. For awhile, I thought that I liked it. His abuse felt so much better than his neglect, and those were really my only two options. I also didn’t have any frame of reference for what sex was supposed to be like, and not many of my friends had been in casual sexual relationships, so I didn’t know what was or wasn’t “normal” behavior.

On some level, I knew that the wounds were signs of something … bad. But for the first time in my life, I felt like something was happening to me. You know, a Real Event. And I think that’s what kept me so involved, despite the constant warning in the back of my mind. I kept thinking that this was something life-defining and significant.

I was right.

As time went on, I began to feel completely paralyzed around him. I could never ask him for anything, out of fear that it would give him leverage to bargain with me. (A fear that still plagues me to this day in all of my intimate relationships.)

I also could not achieve orgasm during sex, and that bothered me. When I first expressed that concern to him, he seemed eager to rectify the situation. But after hours and hours of digital stimulation, he came to the conclusion that it was my fault — that the problem was in my head.

So that shut me up. Indefinitely.

Eventually, the strain of it all really got to me. I was tired of feeling unwanted and unworthy. I couldn’t take the constant pressure of anal sex beating down on me — it was a constant battle, and I felt like, whichever way the pendulum swung, I lost. I could either satiate him and endure unbearable pain, or I could deny him and feel the sting of his neglect and frustration.

So I ended it.

He had called me up on Dillo Day to invite me to hang out with him at the concert, and I told him that I didn’t want to see him anymore.

He got angry and defensive. Asked me if he’d hurt me, told me casual relationships didn’t have to “end,” that we could still hang out and not have sex (Oh yeah? A clear manipulation).

I told him how I felt about the anal situation, how it made me feel guilty and worthless. He said, “What’s with you?! Why are you being so negative tonight??” I was just trying to be honest.

Then, he said that when I came back to school after summer vacation, maybe I’d feel differently. Just to placate him, I said, “Okay, we’ll see,” and hung up.

I felt so relieved to have gotten myself out of that mess.

 

•°*•*°• . CHAPTER 3 •°*•*°• .

Depression & A Second Helping of Abuse

That summer, I turned 19, and I had my first depressive episode. I didn’t know what it was at first; all I knew was that it was scary.

I had never felt so hopeless, so worthless, so lifeless in all of my life. I ceased to find joy in anything. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I wept uncontrollably on a daily basis, curled up in the fetal position, shaking violently. And the worst part was: I had no idea why.

Well, I had some idea. I noticed a pattern in the thoughts that seemed to trigger these episodes the most (though, at the time, I didn’t know what a “trigger” was — or even an “episode”; this is all now being filtered through my better understanding of trauma and mental illness. At the time, I was totally lost).

The thoughts that kept pounding in my head had to do with the fact that I felt worthless to all men. hated myself so consummately for not being able to perform certain sex acts. I felt like a complete and utter failure as a woman. It made me not want to be alive — and that is no exaggeration.

And these were thoughts that I could not escape, because I was reminded of them everywhere. Sex is all around us, and you never realize just how pervasive something is until you’re trying to avoid it … So I went on loathing myself and further hardwiring into myself the feelings of worthlessness that *Doc had first instilled in me.

I knew that this was why I was so unhappy. But I didn’t know that I was ill.

That is, until I got back to school in September, and I started perusing the Internet and discovered — a-ha! — that what I was experiencing were symptoms of clinical depression.

But even though I’d figured it out, I remained in denial about it for over a year.

On the bright side, I ended up finding a real group of close friends around this time, when I co-founded Northwestern’s Secular Student Alliance, and that was a welcome and comforting distraction. It gave me something to care about and devote my time and energy to.

However, a lot of the time I still wound up having to ditch all of my commitments for those all-too-frequent “bed days” when you just cannot bring yourself to get out from under the tremendous weight that is depression in order to face the world outside.

And even when I did manage to make it to my classes or to my various social engagements, it was hard to not be triggered by the slightest mention of sex or sexuality. My triggers were so rampant; I would sometimes have panic attacks while sitting on the toilet, because the sensations of defecating were reminiscent of anal penetration, and oftentimes I would randomly feel a “ghost penis” inside of my vagina that sent me into paroxysms of trembling and tears. And yes, the combative action that I took most frequently in response to that feeling was to shower repeatedly, but I could never seem to wash it out.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

One night, while I was home for winter break, I decided to send *Doc a Facebook message. It was a cry for help, actually. I needed to know more about what had happened to us — to me.

I was obviously still struggling with trying to understand it all myself, and the process had quite literally made me sick, so I thought that because he was more experienced than I was with all things sexual, he would know what to say to pull me out of this.

I made sure not to make it sound as if I was blaming him, only that I needed an explanation for the things he said and did to me.

His response was surprising and hurtful.

Well, first of all, he seemed irritated and told me that I wasn’t the first woman to complain to him like this (ha ha, maybe stop raping us?).

He then accused me of getting caught up in “the land of romantic-marriage type relationships” (what?! Me??), and followed it up with these maddening, immortal words:

“YOU HAD A EXTREME SEXUAL EXPERIENCE AND YOU CAN BE PROUD OF IT. and you don’t need to tell bout your top secrets to any body else.”

My submission to “Project Unbreakable,” a healing photography project for sexual assault survivors to reclaim the power of words that were once used against them.
http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/

Classic.

I mean, it’s easy now for me to roll my eyes and feel enraged. At the time, it really affected me. I didn’t know anything about sexual assault, the plight of a victim, the profile of a perpetrator … What I heard when I read what he wrote was: You’re just a silly girl. Get over it. Or better yet, embrace it. You just don’t know good sex when you have it. You should be thanking me.

But the subtext was actually: I’m a piece of shit sex offender, and maybe if I put you down enough, you’ll blame yourself and not tell anybody about what I did to you.

If only rapists would be so direct.

Anyway, I was so enraged by what he said that I responded a little less sensitively this time. He answered by calling me on the phone, and we wound up talking for hours.

For some reason, I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t malicious, just daft, and that he may have been experienced, but he wasn’t experienced with women who were inexperienced.

So I decided to brush off my grudges and give him the benefit of the doubt. (Sigh.)

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

When I got back from winter vacation, I sighted *Doc in the Starbucks where we first had coffee (it’s the same Starbucks that triggers knots in the pit of my stomach whenever I pass by it, and I can’t ever bring myself to go inside it now).

I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t make eye contact, I couldn’t hear anything but my accelerating pulse. My entire body was trembling. I just stood at the register and placed my order until I worked up the courage to look … But he wasn’t there!? He was standing outside the window now, his back facing me. Was he waiting for me to come out? There was no way he hadn’t seen me … I panicked. I started calculating escape routes, wondered if the Starbucks employees would let me run out the back. But when I turned to leave, *Doc had vanished again.

I wanted to cry for some reason. Why hadn’t he spoken to me? Didn’t I at least deserve a “hello”? I was so upset that I decided to text him: “So we’re both trying to avoid each other then?”

According to him, he hadn’t seen me at Starbucks, and he insisted that we see each other that night. I stopped responding, so he called me. I ignored it, but he called me again later, after I had gone to bed. I ignored that call, too.

His persistence continued until I caved in and started taking his calls. (I’ll admit, I was a little flattered by the unrelenting attention.) I agreed to have a “talk” with him, but I made the mistake of letting him take me back to his place to have it.

I did all of the talking. He just laid there, sprawled out on the bed, trying to seduce me.

After I had said all I’d wanted to say (and after he had characteristically ignored all of it), the whole situation seemed kind of futile, so I had sex with him against my better judgement. We had officially resumed our affair.

And that’s when the abuse spiraled out of control.

Over the course of the next couple of months, he began to reveal to me his preoccupation with sadomasochism*. And not in words. He started constantly choking me during sex (and sometimes before sex, as foreplay) — so tightly and prolongedly that it would hurt me to swallow for days afterward. He would grab me and smack me — he even walloped my ass once, leaving deep, unsightly bruises all over my cheeks that I couldn’t believe … He liked covering my eyes, my ears, my mouth, pinning me down so I couldn’t move, leaving me defenseless. He got off on making me feel genuine pain and humiliation. (For instance, one time we decided to use these plastic handcuffs that he had, but it didn’t take me very long to figure out that he was more interested in making me yelp and watching my wrists bleed than he was about actually restraining me. And another time, when he bit my top lip so hard that it went numb, swelled up, and left an ugly red bruise that I had to cover with dark lipstick for weeks.) And as he was fucking me, he would crane his head around, a full 180°, and stare at himself in the mirror — I kid you not, for the entire duration — because I apparently wasn’t enough to hold his interest myself.

His efforts to make me feel invisible were so thorough. I stopped feeling like a person entirely. I was just a vessel for his pleasure, and I accepted it, because I had no choice, I was so beaten down.

I had tried telling him how the way he treated me made me feel, but it was like he didn’t believe me. He was convinced that I secretly liked it, he’d tell me that “other girls like it,” and that his job was to “bring it out of me” —  even though I told him again and again how much it turned me off.

I couldn’t accept that it was just a miscommunication, because I was constantly struggling against him. The problem was, that’s exactly how he liked it.

He also continued his attempts to sodomize me. He would try to physically force my head down onto him, and when I struggled, he yelled: “Come on, don’t waste my time!!”

He then began anally raping me. I would scream, and I would cry, and I would push against him — but he just held me down and said, “Shh … shh …” as he thrusted.

He did always stop … eventually.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why did I keep going back? But it was so hard to believe that I was being abused; “victim” seemed like the antithesis of everything I thought I was. So I hid it, even from myself. And I tried to like it. He convinced me that there was something wrong with me for not being into it, and I didn’t want there to be something wrong with me. I already felt worthless, subhuman, ashamed … and the only way I could see to stop feeling those things was to try my best to obey him. It was my attempt at reclaiming my agency over the situation, I guess.

And believe it or not, this is the kind of mentality that keeps hundreds of thousands of people in abusive relationships all the timeJudgement won’t fix the problem, but creating a safe space for victims to talk freely about what happens behind closed doors just might …

Anyway, one night, it all became too much. I completely broke down on him. And maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been tipsy — but I had come to realize that it was so much easier for me to be with him after a couple of drinks. That slight disassociation helped me get through it.

So this one night, I had had some vodka, and he tried to penetrate me anally again. When I fought back, he caught me in a stranglehold and ordered me to jerk him off, saying that only then would he let me go. I struggled furiously. He was just too strong. Eventually, I threatened to elbow him in the balls, and he hesitated for a second and let me go.

And then he yelled at me. He actually castigated me for taking it so seriously, for always ruining his fun. “It’s just role play!” he argued. How was I supposed to know that? I started weeping, telling him that I was so depressed, that I could not remember what it felt like to be happy, and that I needed his help.

He looked at me like I was crazy (okay, technically I was), and after hearing me out, he confessed that he thought I was just too emotional for him, too insecure, and too much work for too little reward.

So I was at my lowest of lows. I picked my clothes up off the floor and dolefully started putting them back on. He asked me where I was going, and I told him I was leaving, that I didn’t want to be a chore, so it was over.

As he drove me home, we kept talking about what had gone wrong. He claimed to not have known that I didn’t like it. I said that I distinctly remembered telling him so — on at least three separate occasions. He then declared that he could only remember me saying it once. “Wouldn’t that have been enough times??” I replied. But he maintained that it was all just one huge misunderstanding.

And I didn’t know what else to think besides: Yes, he must be right.

When I got out of his car, I said, “I’m sorry … for …” but I didn’t know how to finish the sentence, and he just waved it away. Then he told me that I could call him anytime I wanted. As soon as I was out of his sight, I erupted into tears and wept all night.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt as if someone had died. (Possibly me?) I couldn’t get out of bed, so I didn’t. I checked my phone, and there was a text message from *Doc that said “Sory for last night. I misunderstood u and did the wrong role play.”

I thought about that for a long time and ended up blaming myself, yet again, for what had happened. I concluded that I just didn’t understand the rules, and that I should have known better.

The next day, I wrote *Doc a ridiculously self-deprecating Facebook message, apologizing for being a “whiny, needy, stupid little bitch” and thanking him for “trying to tolerate me.” I took full responsibility for not realizing that the abuse was a “game” (rather than blaming him for not obtaining consent before initiating it).

And then I went to New Orleans for spring break with my family. It was the most depressed I could remember being. I was in a constant state of crying, and the distance didn’t lift my spirits the way I thought it might.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

When I came back to campus, *Doc started texting me, pressuring me to come see him. I felt completely resigned to this vicious cycle that I couldn’t seem to escape.

So naturally, I caved.

He picked me up that night. On the way back to his place, he stopped to get some food, and while I sat in his parked car, I considered making a run for it. Let him feel rejection and isolation for a change. But I didn’t, because … where would I go? This was the only Place in my entire world, it seemed. Everything else that had ever existed for me was from another life ago …

So I sat tight, and I waited for him to come back for me.

Once we were in his bedroom, I reminded him that I was on my period, and he said, “I know. I like blood.” (Like I needed to be reminded of that …) Then he attacked me. He fucked me in that way that I hated — right after I had explicitly asked him not to — where he would wrap his arms around my head, bury my face into his chest, and just pound, inhumanly. I started crying and pushing against his chest. That, of course, didn’t stop him; it never did. So I screamed at him to stop. He did. And he yelled, Why do you always have to ruin the sex??”

Well, I guess I had some fight in me on this particular night, because I retorted, “What — you’d rather I wait until you’ve come before I tell you I don’t like it??” And then he yelled, Yes!!!!!”— without a hint of irony, I assure you.

I was appalled by what I was hearing. I had always assumed that there was some shred of humanity in him, and that he just hid it really well. He had never spelled his malice out so bluntly ever before, but that’s apparently what I needed in order to figure it out.

The fight escalated, and at one point, I smacked him in the jaw. I was kind of disappointed by how weak the blow was, but his reaction was priceless. He actually tried to argue that he didn’t deserve it, that he had done “nothing” to me. I laughed and explained the irony of the situation to him, and he then tried to deny that he — a self-proclaimed sadist — had ever caused me physical pain.

I was beyond delirious by this point. Hysterical.

I said, “You plead ignorance every time you want to avoid the problem!”

And he said, “That’s just how you want to interpret it.”

I realized then that this conversation — the one I had been trying to resolve with him for a year now — was utterly futile. As I was clearly giving up, he decided to try to be cuddly and sweet with me. I shoved him off the bed in disgust, and when he got up and I shifted up onto my knees to reset the balance — he cowered.

I know, I know, it was wrong of me to be forceful with him (and I certainly am not condoning it). But the feeling I had in that moment, when the power seemed finally reversed — when finally he could feel the fear he made me feel (if only for a moment) — was so spectacular that I couldn’t help but revel in it.

Eventually, I walked out on him, but he told me to wait so he could give me a ride home. I allowed that, and the whole time he was getting dressed, he tried to make it seem as though this ending was his idea. It was pathetic. And for once, I could see that clearly, that’s what he was all along.

That night and the next morning, I felt ecstaticI had ended it, and I felt sure that it was for the last time. I wasn’t happy, but I felt this energy that had been dormant for so long. It was mostly fueled by anger, and I could tell that’s all it was, but I was resolved to hold onto it for as long as possible.

A face-painting I did on the eve of leaving *Doc for the third time, Spring 2010.

·.·.·.·.·.·.·

That summer, I turned 20. I also started working out, because I had heard that exercise is supposed to help deal with depression. I worked out — all day, everyday — to the point where it was seriously excessive. (I’ve come to understand that this is, in fact, a common behavior associated with sufferers of anorexia.)

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to help. I was still having depressive episodes every night, and sometimes even during my workouts. I surmised that this might have had something to do with why I was depressed to begin with. I felt that I was playing right into the hands of the societal beauty standard that had driven me into having body image issues in the first place — and moreover, the thought of being even more attractive to my rapist made me sick to my stomach.

This was also around the time that I began to espouse a growing suspicion that I was a feminist, and at the time, it kind of freaked me out. All I knew about feminism was the stigma associated with it in our society (e.g., “feminazis”), and so I was terrified to tell anybody about how I felt. Besides, from what I had read on the Internet about feminists, I gleaned that I was probably one of the “bad ones,” since my perspective on sex (molded entirely from my personal experiences) seemed to fall under the classification of “negative.”

But what could I really do about that? hated sex, and for good reason. I never wanted to have it again. It was the single most destructive force I had ever encountered in my life. It had filled me with hate. It had robbed me of my will to live. Of course I detested it. But the shame and self-blame and uncertainty that I felt from having experienced all of that — plus, the additional threat of being socially stigmatized for the thoughts that I was having — continued to silence me on the subject.

I tried to do more research, but I found that any commentary on sexuality that I came across would send me into panic attacks or depressive episodes, so I really couldn’t bear it. I just curled up in a ball and hoped that I’d just get into some horrible accident or contract a terminal disease or something so that I could disappear and no one would ever have to know that I’d wished for it.

 

PART TWO: Date Rape

PART THREE: Relationship Violence

PART FOUR: Healing & Epilogue

 

*Re: SADOMASOCHISM

I am not suggesting that BDSM is an inherently dangerous, nonconsensual practice. It most certainly can be practiced safely and consensually. You can read up a bit on how that is done responsibly HERE. :)

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