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 …
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 . •°*•*°• .
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. I 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.”
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. I 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.”
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 time. Judgement 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.
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 ecstatic. I 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.
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? I 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 THREE: Relationship Violence
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. 🙂
This is brilliantly written. It has so many truths in it. Thank you for sharing; it is especially helpful dealing with expectations and the new role of women in society.
Wow that guy is insane! People like that should be locked up and the key thrown away. It’s not feminism if you ask for respect – It’s normal.
Thank you for sharing your story in such a public way. More people need to be aware that sexual assault is not just committed by masked men in a dark alley somewhere. My current job requires that I read about sexual assault cases, gather pertinent information from them and provide a brief summary of the case. It has been an eye-opening, frustrating and challenging experience for me. Thank you again for making such a personal aspect of your life available to the public.
[…] Cassy Byrne, a skeptic/feminist blogger whose own chronicle of her own story of sexual assault and recovery I stumbled upon by accident, and inspired me to be brave enough to […]
[…] to work with and a terrific activist.So it was definitely a jarring experience for me to read a series of posts she put up on her website today. She talks about being sexually assaulted, why she was silent about it for a long time, what it did […]
I am the husband to a wonderful woman who is also a survivor of sexual assault. Your story is powerful. I sincerely wish you had not had to experience such things, but I am deeply grateful that you have written this and I very much hope that others will find strength here, both survivors and those of us who love survivors.
Thank you. You are awesome. I’ve got several friends who are survivors, and one thing that is shared for most of them is they all felt alone, believing it was only them. Stories such as your help break that silence.
It must have taken a lot of courage to post this.
Powerful. It is heart-wrenching to read, but it is so important to know about the experience the abused had. I admit that I have wondered why people don’t walk away from the abuse. It is very brave to write this story; I hope it is empowering as well.
Reblogged this on lovelylikebeestings and commented:
In high school, I was active in the theater department. I am still in contact with one of the teachers from those years. She shared this blog. This is written by one of her students.
you are incredible; so inspired by you and your courage. sending so much love your way.
[…] And on a similar note, post of the week goes to my friend Cassy, who wrote this heartbreaking four-part narrative about her experiences with sexual assault, abuse, mental illness, and recovery. Huge trigger […]
[…] And that was how I learned of my baby girl’s years of brutal rape and sexual abuse at the hands of four men at college — in something she shared on Facebook. […]
Holy shit I could barely breathe reading this. I certainly hope you find your peace in life. You soooooo deserve it!! Coming from a background of sexual abuse, I feel your pain. Thank you for sharing in a way I never did… You are glorious!!
Reblogged this on Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History and commented:
BIGGEST TRIGGER WARNING EVER- but a fantastic piece.
I lived with you for a year at Northwestern and I never knew. Cassy. I’m so sorry.
(this is Alexa from facebook) I read this, All of it, and my heart ached for you and for all the victims who have been mislead and misinformed on what sex is, what it isn’t. There’s so much ignorance about sexual assault, on what rape is. And I am so inspired that you had the strength and courage to write your experience and let others read your heart breaking story. You should be proud, because with your blog you are helping to open the eyes of those who are ignorant. All rapists aren’t “men with guns in a dark alley” And your story demonstrates how most rapist behave. You are helping victims cope right now. You are helping victims to know what rape is. You are a survivor and I am honored to have you as a friend. I want you to know your story has inspired me to do my new series called “sexual assault”
I will be doing body art/ photoshoot series on the many forms of sexual assault.
I am so thankful to you for sharing your story, and more thankful that in the long run you didn’t allow it to cause you hate toward anyone that shares attributes of your rapist. As someone who has experienced safe, sane, CONSENSUAL BDSM, I am overwhelmingly grateful for your disclaimer. That man was beyond uninformed and uneducated about the principles of SM, and people like him are the reason that these desires are looked down upon and given a bad name, even though people enjoy them responsibly with CONSENT every day. Thank you again for your inspiring actions.
Thank you for sharing, it’s been very eye opening to what is and isn’t consent and how to go about things and such. I’ve also learned to be much more careful on either side. I was evaluating my different encounters and have found myself in a few incidents that were not fully consensual. I have found myself guilty on the other side, where as someone didn’t say no (and I didn’t read any language against anything either, we also didn’t have sex either) but I found out later that they weren’t comfortable with what had happened and they actually told somebody a lie about it as well. My point is, I’ve learned to double double check, because I’m not a violent person, but I have found myself to be slightly aggressive and have unintentionally been manipulative in some cases. I would never hurt anyone, but it scares me how much capacity I have for it.
Cassy, you are one of my heros.
Hi, my name is Jay Richardson. You probably remember me, I dated your sister for about 6 months in high school. I would just like to say that you are a beautiful young woman. No one deserves what you have been through. It is despicable to me that men can do such horrible things. I want you to know that you are a survivor. One day you will meet a real man. Real men treat women equally, real men listen to what women have to say, real men treat women with R-E-S-P-E-C-T FIND OUT WHAT IT MEANS TO ME!!!
I myself am a survivor of a very different type. You may or may not know that I am a burn survivor. I sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 60% of my body in a house fire. I was hospitalized for four months and afterwards I developed something known as Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD). When I read what you wrote about triggers, it brought a tear to my eye. When I saw a TV ad that had a smoke alarm in it, I spontaneously broke out crying hysterically. When I was at my doctors office, they had a fire drill. The PA system announced: “THERE IS A FIRE IN THE BUILDING. DO NOT PANIC. EXIT THE BUILDING VIA THE STAIRS.”
I knew that it was only a drill but I (pardon my french) freaked the fuck out. I started hyperventilating; I was having a panic attack. Thus is the signature of PTSD. I cannot begin to understand what you have been through but I know a thing or two about trauma. Talking about it is what helped me, I saw a therapist who helped me with my PTSD and later I joined a support group for burn victims at my hospital. I joined specifically so I could help others dealing with severe burns and so I could share my story with them and inspire hope.
Cassy, I admire your indomitable courage. It takes a lot of guts to share your story, really A LOT OF GUTS. Kudos. You have so much power to help others in need with your story.
You are a warrior
You are a crusader
You are an amazing person
YOU ARE A SURVIVOR
Jay Randall Richardson
P.S.: I must reiterate, Prince Charming will come. There “are plenty of fish in the sea” so they say. The only problem is that some of those fish are sharks. Some men are predators. It makes me sick that men can do such vile things, yet for every doucebag there are many more nice guys that would rather die than hurt a woman. Remember that
[…] has been three months since Cassy “came out” to us and the world as a sexual abuse survivor. Somehow seems longer. My husband and I escorted her to the Philadelphia Free Library to celebrate, […]
[…] authors in attendance was our daughter, Cassy, who had “come out” earlier this year with her tale of abuse at the hands of several sadistic young men (she named them after the 7 Dwarfs, to her Snow White) […]
I sincerely wish you hadn’t had to experience this, but thank you, sincerely, for writing about it.
Wow. You know what your stories tell us about you? That you’re one passive, weak-willed pleb. The common denominator in your experiences is you. Stop. Being. Passive. Reactionary. The alcohol, the people you choose to associate with, it’s all you. Choose your life. Write your own fucking story. That is all.
That’s the whole point! That’s exactly what abuse does to a person. But boy do you sound like the invalidating voice that use to torment me in my head and keep me down at rock bottom. Luckily I know better now than to listen to it. Guess you didn’t make it to the end of the story, but I’m getting help now and reclaiming control over my life, so you don’t have to worry. Thanks for the unsolicited advice, though! Cheers!
That invalidating voice in my head is what encourages me take action. You must be very different.
Andddd almost all good advice is unsolicited. What people hate to hear is often the truth of the matter.