Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse.
My mother married a monster. Not the sinister big bad wolf kind who can barely conceal his true form under dainty pretences. No, we were not fortunate enough to see the big teeth—all the better to eat us with—peeking out from behind some thin disguise. He was the kind of monster that charms his way into your heart, makes himself comfortable in your life and waits for you to love him. And then, only then, when you feel safest and happiest, when it’s way too late to run, he destroys you.
There are so many points in this story, where if I could travel back in time, I would scream at my mother to run from the man who scarred me forever. But the only access I have to my past is the dark memories and the terrifying nightmares that still wake me up at night with sweat and tears pouring down my face. I cannot go back, only forward. But going forward doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten. I don’t think I ever will.
My mother met my step-father when I was six years old. He was a businessman from the U.K. who was visiting our island home and staying at the hotel she worked at. A friend of hers set them up, though my mother blew him off the first time. But with some persistence he persuaded her to go out with him. They began a whirlwind romance unlike any love affair I had ever seen my mother in. Her other boyfriends were men I saw her kiss goodbye through car windows, and she was always home at night to sleep beside me in the bed we shared.
But this one was different. This romance included separations from my mother as she jetted off to England with him. Then he began to visit more often. Then came the sleepovers which meant a sleepover of sorts for me—I spent many nights in my aunt’s bed. He called my grandmother “Mom” and she cooked for him. My aunt and cousins took to him.
I wish I could say I had that special intuition children have for people with ill-intentions, but I was enamoured too. He brought me chocolates and had real conversations with me. He encouraged my intelligence and my curiosity. And two years after he’d met my mother, he gave me what I wanted most—a sibling. A sweet, docile, curly-headed baby boy that I loved and adored. I instantly forgave him for not being the sister I originally hoped for. And I forgave my step-father for keeping my real father and my mother from rekindling. To me, he was the next best thing.
A year after my brother was born, my stepfather married my mother. Shortly after that, a baby sister was added to the happy family and tickets were bought and bags were packed for the great U.S. of A. I have always been a weepy person and many tears were shed in that airport as I said goodbye to my family and my best friend. My father, who had lost full custody to my mother years before, added a stern warning to his goodbye that confused me at the time but sends a chill down my back every time I recall it now. He said, “Don’t let him touch you.”
We settled in Florida, and things were as sunny as the Southern weather for a while. But cracks in the mask began to show through. I received many stern lectures on good and acceptable behaviour. And then the “spankings” came. For leaving the front door unlocked. For refusing to kill a cockroach that had set up residence in my bedroom closet. For allowing a swarm of hornets to nest in a pair of shoes I’d left on the balcony too long. I reasoned for a long time after that the spankings were not too harsh, nor undeserved. But I was beginning to see a side of my stepfather that had never reared its head back home. With an ocean between us and the rest of my family, he became a disciplinarian.
It was as if the further he got from our island, the more he let go of his pretences. We moved to Canada, rather unexpectedly due to immigration issues, just shy of a year after arriving in Florida. My mother, largely pregnant with my youngest sister was a picture of misery. She hadn’t wanted a fourth child and the cold weather disagreed with her. But we were stuck and so we stayed. We rented a tiny house, all my stepfather could afford with his new minimum wage job. I was homeschooled for a year because immigration restricted me from enrolling in school.
While I was learning English and Math and History, I was getting a few extra-curricular lessons as well. I learned about poverty and food banks and hunger. I learned what it looks like when a largely pregnant woman gets into a terrifying yelling match with an angry husband and how it felt to cower helplessly in a corner. I learned that small spaces and foetal positions were comforting for me. And I learned about masturbation from my stepfather. At 12 years old. I don’t recall asking for that lesson, but it was delivered anyway. What I do remember is feeling incredibly uncomfortable about it. But like the warning from my father, I brushed that away too.
In fact, I brushed my father way. My father, a devoutly religious man, had been sending me reading material and Bibles. He wrote me long letters encouraging me to keep my faith. I was 12. I wasn’t interested. And my stepfather encouraged me to tell my father exactly that. I remember the hurt and surprise in my father’s voice. It didn’t bother me then. But it strikes me now as one more inch of distance my stepfather was creating.
With every move, he got bolder. When we moved from the small house to an apartment building, he began visiting me at night. I slept in the upper bunk of a bunkbed, right above my siblings, and he would climb into my bed at night. It seemed innocent, because he hadn’t touched me. He’d just lay beside, the big spoon to my little one.
It was weird, yes, but it was a better alternative than the hour long lectures and the brutal “spankings” I got for any little breach of his long list of rules. It was better than him reading my emails and interrogating me about boys. It was better than the time he tried to kick me out and slapped me across the face for swearing at school. (To this day, I still don’t know how he found that out.) There were days I would go to school yawning from exhaustion because I’d been up listening to him lecture me for hours. There were times I couldn’t sit properly in class because my ass was swollen, the shape of the belt marking my butt cheeks. So when he crawled into my bed, it was a relief. I had done nothing wrong that day. I would go elsewhere, zone out, pretend it wasn’t me he was cuddled up behind.
It only got worse when we moved again and I got my own bedroom. There were no siblings who might wake up and question why their dad was in my bed. His new job meant that he’d come in at late hours when my mother was already fast asleep at the other end of the hall in their bedroom. He’d come home, and come to my room first. He’d get into my bed. Big spoon. He’d put his hand through the bottom of my night shirt, between my breasts. Hand on my shoulder. I could feel him, his heat, his body pressed up against me. Hands wandering. Me silent. I became an expert at disassociating. At zoning out. At pretending anyone else was in that bed but me.
The lectures continued, though the beatings stopped. Just hours and hours of demoralizing lectures reminding me of every rule I’d ever broken, every way I’d ever failed. I lost count of the ways I could get in trouble. There were more than anyone could reasonably be expected to keep track of. I am a born perfectionist and a chronic people pleaser. His displeasure with me was unbearable.
He was terrifying when he raged. I was reamed out in Walmart because my t-shirt bared my midriff when I reached up for an item above me. I was screamed at in a strip mall parking lot while my siblings cried and my mother watched in shocked silence. I heard him punch a hole in my mother’s closet door after an argument that started with me. Because when he was angry with me, he was angry with everyone. My siblings got it. My mother got it. The house would be so tense, it felt like we were always on the verge of explosion. And I was a lit match.
So when he came to my bedroom at night, I learned to do more than fall quiet and go elsewhere in my mind. I became someone else. I never resisted. I played along. Though I was starting to hate him, I said “I love you too” when he told me he loved me. And a part of me did. The sooner I relaxed and pretended I’d fallen asleep, the sooner he’d leave me alone. As long as I played along, there were no fights. Everybody got to be happy.
He took this as a good sign. He began taking me out to dinners, buying me gifts and calling me his girlfriend. He told me in another universe, he would marry me. A weekend road trip and a night in a hotel included an ironic lecture on the danger of alcohol and men taking advantage of women. If my mother left the house, he took full advantage, putting his hands in places they never belonged. A 10 o’clock pick up from church youth night would end up in a 12 o’clock arrival at home because he’d stop to buy me pizza. And after the pizza, he’d stop to find a dark parking lot where he could touch me and I could pretend to be someone else, someone who liked it. I am terrified of dark parking lots. I am ashamed of what happened to me on those late nights, in the cramped confines of a car. I am haunted by who I became and what my alter ego allowed, what I learned to welcome as the better alternative.
Because the second I slipped, the moment I wasn’t affectionate or loving enough, it was war in our house. The same old yelling matches and the same old unbearable tension. I once asked him if he could stop calling me his girlfriend, and he actually sulked like a child before the anger fired up in his eyes. I retracted my request very quickly. It was a long time before he forgave me for that.
So I learned to keep playing along. And the less I resisted, the more I became that other person. A person who would try to control when and how I was abused by initiating it. My therapist tells me it was a coping mechanism, but I’m still not able to forgive myself. Because the more I did that, the more the real me suffered. I cringed internally when he called me his girlfriend and told me he was in love with me. But I never showed my discomfort. I cried myself to sleep at night after he left my room.
The more this went on, the further apart my mother and I drifted. He was distant from her. They fought often. Our home became a house divided. He against her. She against me. I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t know how. How do you say, “Hey mom, your husband is abusing me and treats me like his mistress”? There’s no prescribed opener for that conversation. So I’d sit beside her during episodes of Law and Order, silent when the story centered on incest and molestation, half convinced those things weren’t the same as what was happening to me anyway.
It was a Sunday morning the day it all started crumbling down. It was just few days shy of my nineteenth birthday and we were getting ready for church. I was making pasta for the lunch we’d eat when we got home, and instead of putting the empty box in the recycling bin, I forgot it on the counter. He came downstairs in a fury because after I’d used the bathroom, I’d forgotten to wiggle the lever that flushed the toilet to stop the water from running in the toilet and when he spotted the pasta box his anger turned up a notch. He started in on another one of his lectures about how irresponsible I was and how I never listened. And as he talked and talked and talked, I felt my own anger boiling up inside me. When the words came out of my mouth, I almost didn’t believe it was me who had said them.
“Ok! I heard you. Why do you always have to go on like that? I heard you the first time!”
He paused for a split second and shocked silence echoed between us before he began another angry rant. The argument went back and forth for a while. I could hear my mother and siblings walking around upstairs, unbothered by what was just another argument between him and me. And then it happened. Just as my mother was coming down the stairs, I stepped towards him, and he shoved me with both hands into the wall behind me. My mother sprung to action, stepping between us. It was the first time I’d ever seen her get in his face on my behalf. My mother, who had become a shell of herself under his angry tyranny, was showing her fire again.
In the face of her resistance, he marched upstairs and the house fell quiet. And for weeks, it went on like that. My birthday came and went and he didn’t acknowledge me. School started and when I asked him for money to buy books, he scoffed. He refused to eat with us. He’d come home and go to bed. And I was ok with that because it meant he wasn’t talking to me. He wasn’t visiting me at night. He wasn’t touching me.
And then late one night, I found him downstairs sitting in the living room and he beckoned me over to him. He sat me on his lap and I felt my heart begin to pound. He told me he missed me and he was hurt. He said he was sorry about the fight. He told me he wanted to go back to the way things were—“things” of course being his nightly visits to my room, my pretending. I fought for composure, to resist the urge to flinch. I just nodded so he’d let me go.
The very next morning after he’d left for work, I called my mother’s best friend, a woman I loved and trusted. I told her I needed to see her right away. She agreed to meet me later that morning in a coffee shop near her house. We ordered tea and sat down like all the other normal patrons. And then I brought our normalcy to a screeching halt when I told her my stepfather had been abusing me for seven years, how my mother didn’t know, and how I couldn’t keep pretending anymore. I told her that pretending was killing me.
I watched the tears fill her eyes. A man she knew and trusted around her daughters, a man she thought was taking care of her best friend’s daughter, a man who was respected in their church, was an abuser. She agreed to be the one to tell my mother. So I went to school, a ghost of myself, and wept during my lectures. My mother called me to tell me she knew and that she was sorry. I told her I wasn’t going to press charges but that I had to leave. Two days later, I moved in with my mom’s best friend and her family. And that’s where I cracked.
It was as if the burden of pretending was lifted and whatever was holding my broken pieces together gave way. I fell into a deep depression. I was a chronic insomniac. I lost ten pounds in a matter of weeks. I was so anxious that if I saw a vehicle that looked like his, I had to go home. I began to drop out of classes because I was forgetting to do the work. I was shattered and lost. I’d sit in my therapist’s office and stare at the wall behind her head, hearing only half of what she’d said.
After three months, I moved back home. He was gone, living in a motel somewhere. My mother had rearranged all the furniture in my bedroom and changed the bedding. I spent Christmas with her and my siblings. I started to eat and sleep again, to see my friends. I met the man who is now my fiancé. I started to move forward, to feel normal. When she told me he was asking to move back in, I decided I would move out. I didn’t tell her how angry I was that she was even considering it. I made the decision for her and moved in with fiancé.
For years, I swallowed back my anger at my mother for staying with him, at my stepfather for giving me a reason to be angry at her. I sat at Christmas dinners and passed turkey and avoided eye contact. I played with my siblings and pretended their father hadn’t ruined me. I pretended, because I was really fucking good at it. I held two opposing emotions towards my mother, my siblings, myself, because I was really fucking good at that too. And I coped. Because that’s what I was expected to do.
Until pretending got too hard. Earlier this year, I had three breakdowns at work. I was having panic attacks every week and crying uncontrollably. I took time off work and went to see my family doctor. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD. I began seeing a counsellor regularly who encouraged me to talk to my mother, and I did.
After 5 years, I told her all the things I was angry at her for. I told her how I would never forgive my stepfather, how I would never sit at another dinner table with him. I demanded an explanation for why she stayed. And when she told me it was because she needed him financially, I realized there were two victims here, not one. He had stripped her of her autonomy, her ability to take care of her children. He made her dependent on him so that even when he did the unthinkable, she couldn’t leave. He snuffed out her fire. I am still angry that she stays, but I forgive her, because I know what it is to pretend because it makes life easier, because it is the lesser of two evils. I hate that I understand, but I do.
I am learning to forgive me too. I am learning to let go of the feelings of guilt and shame; of all the parts of my abuse that I accepted responsibility for. It was not my fault. I did what I had to do to survive. And while I don’t yet fully believe those words, I’m working giving myself that forgiveness. I cannot go back, only forward. Forgiving me is the only way I can do that.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse, Pregnancy, Abortion.
I think one of the hardest thing in life for me is admitting I’ve made a mistake,
Allowing myself to feel deep in my heart, that I didn’t make (what felt like) the right choice in a situation.
I like to believe that I am a strong, smart and capable woman.
But like most of us, we do have our downfalls.
We do things we’re not proud of.
Some of us will sit there and let this guilt eat them away, but me, I push it so far down, I somehow almost convince myself that it didn’t happen.
It’s a tricky little coping mechanism that I’ve picked up along the way.
Today, when I stand and look at myself in front of a mirror; I see a survivor, a warrior, a compassionate person. A caring, open, warm and loving person but I’m trying to come to terms with who I used to be.
I used to be an emotionless monster.
I’ve been so hurt for so long, that I just stopped caring.
I wanted everyone I met to feel this same level of pain that I’ve felt my whole life.
I was sick of being pushed around, I was just sick.
Both physically and mentally.
Then I turned to drugs.
I thought the fake friends, glowing lights and wild adventures would fill the needs of this inner monster I was keeping inside me.
But all it did, was make the monster bigger.
I stopped loving myself completely. That’s when things got bad.
It was like I had this glow around me, that people could just see how hurt I was.
Like a small lamb lost in the forest, only to suddenly realize that I was surrounded by wolves with no way out.
I found myself in a very abusive relationship.
Every drop of my self-esteem was slowly sucked out of me.
I got pregnant.
I couldn’t even turn and talk to my mom, for at that time I still blamed her for allowing me to live through her past.
I got an abortion.
Do you know how terrifying it is, to sit in a waiting room, all alone, and to look around and know that every single woman in that room with you was sitting with their shame between their legs.
That each and every single one of you, were going to walk out of there not knowing if what you did was truly the right choice.
I remember holding back my tears as the doctor shoved this long metal rod inside me.
I felt numb to the nurse’s reassuring words, asking me if I was okay.
How could I be?
Before this, I didn’t even know if I was pro-life or not, all I knew was that I wasn’t going to be another stereotypical teenager living on the streets, pregnant with a guy’s child she didn’t love.
I remember getting so high afterwards.
I didn’t want to think about what I’ve done.
Or why I was bleeding uncontrollably as I sit between my friends, taking turns from the bong.
I couldn’t even tell my best friend.
You think I would have smartened up after that, you would think that perhaps, I’d start using protection, or something, anything.
But I didn’t care about myself.
God, I just wanted to get away from everything.
Late nights, distant mornings, somehow sitting in class trying to finish high school.
Cramming down facts, just to spit them back out into my teachers face.
Who could argue with a smart girl?
My tongue became a violent whip, lashing out at everyone. Then I got pregnant.
Same guy, same mistake.
Maybe deep down, there was still a part of me that hoped that perhaps one day I’d wake up and my life was just a dream.
I’d be living that all American dream, white picketed fence included.
This time around, it was way harder than the first.
For the first time in years, I was beginning to see a way out of this dark hole I’ve let myself live in.
The father convincing me that we’d be a perfect family, as we stood there in our living room surrounded by teenagers passed out in a sea of empty beer cans.
The stale smell of smoke lingering in between each word as he locked me away in his room.
The thudding of my hands against the door, slowly muffled by the loud music as I sat there, wondering if this thing growing inside me would help save me from this nightmare.
But there I found myself, sitting alone in that god damn waiting room again.
Clenching hard on a stuffed animal like maybe, I was the child the doctor was going to get rid instead of the thing growing inside me.
Even as I sit here and write these words, it still doesn’t even seem possible that I’ve come from such a dark place.
Again, I had no one to talk to this about.
I told myself I was simply taking out the trash.
Months pass, battles were overcome.
I began to finally put the pieces of myself back together.
I began to learn how to love myself again.
I started thinking of a future, dreaming, making goals.
Then I was hit with the realization, that I was still just a kid caught up in the system with no money.
Who was I to believe that I could be successful in life?
Who was I to believe that I could ever be able to have the things I want.
Somehow, I stumbled my way back into the darkness of this world.
Figured selling my body was better than to work a 9-5 job.
Better pay, and all I had to do was be my old self.
It felt like a hug from a long lost friend.
Welcoming me back into the dark clubs, gangs and drugs.
This time around though, the game had changed.
Suddenly I was going in it for the money.
Trying to appear that the designer bag on my wrist was real.
That this 50-year-old man could somehow be attractive, as I looked around, bottles of champagne chilling in the hotel room.
Again, you think that I would have learned something by now, making the same mistake not once but twice.
But there I was, pregnant yet again.
This time, I was left to sit there alone, wondering how I stooped so low.
Some strangers baby growing inside me.
Sitting in class, wondering how I was supposed to keeping playing this game.
Having this stranger telling me to just get rid of it.
Bribing me with money.
Having a taxi drive me to this place of shame yet again.
Left alone, struggling to see straight after the procedure.
Lying that my ride was waiting for me outside but secretly I’m sitting on the back of the bus not even sure where I’m going.
But knowing I had to be anywhere but there.
Struggling to choose between buying the prescription drugs or dinner that night.
Then just like that, I swallowed my shame down.
Didn’t dare tell anyone of my dirty secrets.
Went on to finish high school, get a boyfriend, put as much space between the old me and this new me.
Fixing all the relationships that I’ve broken along the way.
But somehow, when I see people out here, fighting for pro-life.
Or I see a new mother, get onto the subway and I see her holding that new born baby.
It makes me cringe. It makes me remember that, that could have been me.
It makes me remember, how dark my life used to be.
I keep thinking, that if I just move on with my life, somehow it won’t make me feel so weird inside.
But here I am, four years later and I still can’t bare to even utter to anyone that I’ve had 3 abortions.
I used to think the idea that someone could be unhappy for no reason at all was kind of absurd. I don’t think anyone can truly grasp the idea until they themselves have felt depressed. I’ve always had low self-esteem but I thought it was a relatively normal feeling to have. It wasn’t until today that I truly had the courage to say out loud that I am suffering. I am not even entirely sure if you can call it anxiety or depression if you haven’t been diagnosed but for right now I think that’s the best word I can think of to describe how I’m feeling. It’s the craziest feeling when you realize that your biggest critic is yourself or one of your loved ones. I know that there are a lot of factors contributing to the way that I feel. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be better, look better, act better and to wipe away my tears before people notice I’m upset. The only person I have met that is harder on me then myself is my mom. I used to think our relationship was a little crazy but nothing out of the ordinary… after all, everyone’s parents get upset and every parent can get a little out of control sometimes when they are trying to do what is best for their child but this, this was different.
It wasn’t until high school that I started to notice how truly wrong I was about the severity of my situation. Everyone has or has had issues but that didn’t make the way she was treating me okay. The woman who I called mom became my worst nightmare but to the world, she was just a loving mom who was just very involved in her daughter’s life. Every time I hit that breaking point where I knew I was in danger and I tried to get myself help she would spin the story to whoever I told and she would always worm her way back in. I’m a smart girl and I know how this sounds… poor girl with her caring mom who just wants the best right? If others weren’t thinking it, I definitely was because this is the game she played. The thing is, not only did she try and control when I went to sleep, who I hung out with, what boys I liked, how I dressed and how much money I spent she also tried to tear me down when I tried to stand up to her. Every time we had these fights I would go back to her and every time she would tear me down as soon as I tried to rebel. I wasn’t a perfect daughter: I went to sleep late and had trouble waking up in the morning for school, I didn’t have healthy eating habits and I procrastinated a lot on my school work but I have always been a hard worker, a caring person, any time I’ve noticed myself get off track I have always been sensible enough to get back on track. The truth is, a lot of these positive qualities may also be a direct result of how I was raised and this was part of the problem. My mom didn’t see how bad she was hurting me because she was too busy “trying to help.” I am not going to lie, to this day I still feel like I need help getting my shit together but the problem is that she doesn’t know how to help me without hurting me. There was this one time when I came home from school (I think I was 15 at the time) and we had a fight over a boy and also about how late I had stayed up watching TV. I locked myself in the bathroom to get away from her and she told me that while I was in there that I should just go ahead and cut myself. She was angry and I knew what she said was out of anger but she was always angry. Every single day of my life she has been angry. Well, now I’m angry. I’m angry at her for making me feel useless, unloved, uncertain, scared, alone, helpless, less-then and sad. I’m also angry for when she tries to make me feel happy, proud, accomplished and loved because what right does she have to tear me down and build me back up and how and I supposed to forgive her or believe her or stay mad at her when I don’t know what’s real or how bad she is truly struggling. Years have passed since high school and it’s always the same fights or even some new ones. I try and fix myself and whether I fail or succeed, the torment never ends only this time not only is she tearing me down but so is the depression.
This past summer I went on a trip with my brother and I was really nervous about it. To be completely honest, my brother and I aren’t very close. Growing up we could never get along so as I grew older I tried to distance myself away from him but last year in January we sort of had this breakthrough moment where I finally felt like I was starting to understand him. My brother just like myself and my mom, is incredibly socially awkward. The awkward part I can deal with, but he also doesn’t have much of a filter. His lack of filter has gotten him into a lot of trouble. In addition to going on this trip with my brother, I was also nervous when I found out that people from my high school would be on the trip. The people I went to high school with were extremely superficial and just plain rude to anyone who had the audacity to try and live the own lives. I decided before the trip that I would try and do my own thing and stay away from these people but my brother’s lack of filter tends to attract a lot of attention. At first, I tried to distance myself from my brother and try and make friends with other people on the trip but after a while, I stopped caring about how much attention he was attracting and I stuck by him. The thing about my brother is even when he says things that attract attention or piss people off I can tell he genuinely means well and he just wants to be understood. Although my relationship with my brother is not perfect I really do enjoy his company. Even when I realized all of this and started to enjoy myself on the trip, I found myself feeling panicked. One night at dinner, for no reason at all, I felt it start to reach an extreme. I don’t really know what brought it on but I found myself rushing out of the room up the stairs until I reached my room where I locked the door and began to panic. I had trouble trying to take deep breaths and calm down. Eventually, I just began to sob and freak out. After a while, I managed to calm myself down wipe away my tears to go back downstairs where everyone else was, and pretend like nothing had happened. A few days later one of the girls who had been hanging out with the boys from my high school approached me and told me she was happy I came on the trip, we hadn’t spoken much before this point so it was kind of weird when she asked me if I had anxiety. It was pretty out of the blue, to be honest… I’m not sure if she heard me freak out or just noticed how socially awkward I was but for some reason, it was comforting to say “yes” out loud, even if she was pretty much a random stranger to me. Overall I had a really good time on the trip but ever since I got home I have been noticing these anxiety attacks happen more and more. Out of nowhere, I will find myself go from completely fine to curling up in my bed or the shower or the couch, sobbing my eyes out.
I hit my breaking point yesterday in the grocery store bathroom when I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t know what had made the face staring back at me so sad. How had I gotten here? One minute I had been walking into the grocery store and the next I found myself rushing to the bathroom clenching my fists and holding back tears. I have been upset before but not for no reason. Not long ago I watched an episode of this show I like called Party of Five, where this woman was so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed or take care of herself and I remember thinking how weird it was to be so upset over nothing. Yesterday was the first day I think I truly understood how she felt. Once I got out of the washroom I went outside to get some fresh air and I called my friend and I told her what had happened. After talking it out I know now that I can’t just expect this to go away.
Trigger Warning: Physical Abuse, Pregnancy, Abortion.
Seven years ago I met someone I believed would love me unconditionally, someone I thought I could possibly build a future with despite all I had been warned about. In the back of my head I felt at times something about him was off but I fought the unsettling feeling in my stomach and I chose to ignore what my friends continued to say. Logic aside, I chose to follow my heart.
We met through mutual friends one summer and initially I thought he was attractive. My friends didn’t think so but in this situation I didn’t really think it mattered what they thought. I heard about his past and I knew his lifestyle was a bit crazier than what I was used to but this excited me so anything he did outside of our relationship did not bother me at first. I knew he was a party animal but I didn’t allow that to be an issue either – I joined him.
Our one-on-ones came later; we first started hanging out in-group settings with our mutual friends at clubs. One night on the way to a club he asked my girlfriend and I if we wanted to try MDMA. I was unsure at first and hesitated but my friend went ahead and tried it so I took some as well, feeling somewhat pressured. When we got to the club we went straight to the patio and started smoking cigarettes. The drugs started to hit me and I started throwing up.
I wasn’t able to fully control myself in this situation – the vomiting, the crying and the confusion… I could hear my friend asking me if I was okay but in this moment I was unable to answer her. I could also hear him in a menacing tone asking everyone, “do you see her and do you see how it’s making her react?” He enjoyed seeing how drugs would affect people for the first time. He was aroused. I somehow ended up leaving the club with him that night. I’m not entirely sure how this happened but it ended up being the first time we had sex.
After having sex we started spending more time together. I learned his dad lived thousands of miles away from him and after starting a new family for himself he stopped caring about his first son. His mom was heavily into crack/cocaine for years before, during, and after his birth and neglected him too so he ended up living with his grandmother after his mom gave birth to him. For roughly two years we were on and off with each other but during this time there was never an official title. Only we knew what was going on.
Any time I tried to move on with another person he would get upset with me and would try to initiate fights with the guy I was speaking to. I didn’t understand this because he would never fail to remind me that I wasn’t his girlfriend. I thought him being jealous of other men was another way of displaying his feelings for me, even if it was indirect so I continued sleeping with him.
Most of the time when I was with him I was really high and out of my right mind: a few months later after continuing to have unprotected sex my period was late. I called my girlfriend who used to hang out with us in the beginning of my relationship with him and she said her period was late too. We waited a few days and then we went to a clinic together to take pregnancy tests – both tests were positive. When I called him to tell him he hung up. I called a second time and he started yelling at me. He didn’t exactly say what he wanted me to do with the baby at this point but he did say I was a slut and an idiot… this now became something that was entirely my fault.
My girlfriend and I didn’t cry at first mostly because we were both in shock. The next step was for me to figure out what to do. I was 17 at the time and I didn’t want to tell my parents. I also knew the amount of drugs I had been doing at the time would affect how my child developed. The biggest factor was my age – I knew wouldn’t be able to provide for the child on my own so I couldn’t keep the baby. The same day I found out I was pregnant was the same day I set up a day to terminate.
I felt extremely alone during this time, one of the reasons being that my girlfriend and I stopped speaking. It might’ve been the fact that we were both pregnant at the same time and had a hard time dealing with it. We were both really stressed, confused, hurting, emotional… we drifted during a time it was necessary for us to support each other. I also felt sad about my choice to have an abortion. Although it was my decision, I knew it was my irresponsibility that caused me to now have to terminate my first pregnancy. I blamed myself because I took drugs and I had unprotected sex. He was also was not a part of the abortion process and this made me feel even more alone.
We continued to see each other after the abortion but he started to say things like he didn’t want to have sex with me because a baby died in me. I began sleeping with other people, even some of his friends because I was angry with him. My pain was enough for me to justify this. When we would argue, I would throw it in his face that I slept with someone he knew. I knew the situation was unhealthy but I chose to handle it this way and continue taking drugs to cope with my loss and the entire situation. I was also hurting over my girlfriend and I not speaking. I felt isolated from everyone. I detached from my friends because they were not able to understand how I felt and I was attached to him because it involved the both of us. When it rains, it pours – situations that arise can make you feel your weakest if your support system isn’t stronger than what you’re being faced with.
The verbal abuse worsened and the physical abuse started. One night I was at his house and we were watching a movie. He suggested going out but I said this would be a bad idea because he was on house arrest. I advised we stay in and he responded by saying I was a fucking bitch and controlling. He grabbed his water bottle and poured water all over me. I decided this would be a good time for me to leave his house but he didn’t.
As I tried to leave he grabbed me. I tried to fight him off but he wouldn’t let go even though I kept saying I didn’t want to be there anymore. I started punching him because I wanted to get away. When he punched me in my nose we both heard it crack and he said, “Yeah did you hear that? I broke your nose.” I still tried to break his hold but he continued to squeeze me to the point where I blacked out temporarily. I fell and he dragged me back into the house. At some point I started to regain consciousness and I could hear he was rummaging through drawers in the kitchen; I thought his next move would be him stabbing me.
He came back to where I was and started hitting my face again. I can’t remember how I did but I got outside and started to run down the street. I knocked on his neighbour’s door and they allowed me to come in and use their phone. I called the same friend I had stopped talking to months before and she came to pick me up. The first thing she said was that I needed to go to the police to file a report and I agreed. The cops took my statement and when they pulled his record and saw the trouble he had been in before they went to get him without hesitation. I told my parents what happened when I got home and this was the first they had learned anything about what I had been going through. Charges were pressed and he went to jail for five months.
I fell into a depression. I didn’t want to go anywhere and mostly because I was scared to go outside. The entire situation starting from finding out I was pregnant and hearing his reaction right down to him putting his hands on me multiple times left me traumatized. Once, he tried to contact me from jail and when I heard his voice I hung up. I continued to use drugs as a way to cope.
Fast-forward five months: one night I went to the club and he was there. I noticed my friends kept whispering about something but wouldn’t let me in on the conversation and it hit me; he was here too. I left them to go to the washroom and as I was walking there I felt someone grab my shoulder and whisper in my ear, “I love you, I’m sorry.” He found me. It didn’t take long before I found myself kissing him until one of my girlfriends came over and pulled me off. They were furious that I would entertain him after all he had done to me but still, in a moment of weakness I tried to seek comfort in him, the one person I shouldn’t. My friends and I left the club and went back to one of my girlfriends’ house. The entire time after I left the club we were texting each other. He later stopped by my friend’s house in a cab to pick me up and despite my girlfriends telling me to not go and that they would be upset with me if I left, I did. I was happy to hear from again but I knew I shouldn’t have been. Why would I be happy to hear from someone that did the things he did? It took me a bit of time before I understood the cycle of abuse.
He said all I needed to hear: he was sorry, he would never do it again, he’s changed, and he’s learned his lesson after being in jail. So I forgave him and we were now officially in a relationship – I had the title I wanted him to give me for two years now and I felt this time would be completely different.
Although my romantic relationship seemed to be flourishing, my relationship with the women in my life went down the drain. Every single one of my girls turned on me because they didn’t support my decision to be in a relationship with him. Instead of trying to understand that I cared for him or remain in my life as a support system in case something went wrong they started calling me names. They would see me out and call me a dirty whore, they would comment on my pictures on social media saying horrible things about me and overall they made me feel even more depressed. This went on for the 7 months I stayed in a relationship with him. The first two months our relationship it felt like he had made changes within himself but after a short time I started to see signs of aggressiveness again. He never hit me again but the verbal abuse continued. He would grab me if we got into an argument and even the smallest arguments were magnified, as he couldn’t control his temper. He would go from being extremely happy with me to being extremely sad and angry within seconds. One minute our conversations were laced with words of love and the next minute he shared he thought I was a whore and worthless. I knew there was something more to him I’d never be able to control but during the time we were in a relationship I tried my best to. His mother knew I tried to leave a few times and every time I attempted to do this she would manage to persuade me to stay a bit longer by saying he needed someone like me because she wasn’t there for him when he was growing up. I was being manipulated all around.
One day we were out having lunch and I saw a girl I had asked him to stop speaking to before sent him a text message. He was being shady again. I got up to leave the restaurant but he wouldn’t let me leave. Leaving him became a problem and at times I found myself scared to go because he would either make me watch as he hurt himself or tell me he would commit suicide if I chose to leave.
We ended up in the street outside of the restaurant arguing. He started following me every time I tried to walk away and as he followed he taunted me. He would keep saying that I couldn’t call my family because I wasn’t allowed to be around him and he’d remind me I didn’t have any friends that would help me get out of the situation this time. Reminding me I was alone was his speciality. I was screaming and crying in the street and despite how many times I asked someone to help, they continued to walk right past me. I tried numerous times to get into a cab but he would open the cab door before I could get to it and tell the driver to leave. I made my way to the subway and went straight home. I told myself to take as much space as I needed and I refused to contact him.
After the incident in front of the restaurant he called me a few nights later. He apologized to me and I let it slide again. Before we ended the conversation he told me he was going to bed and that we would speak in the morning. I woke up to three voicemails from him. He lied again. He went to a club and pocket dialed me and this was the last straw for me. I grew weary and I was exhausted. I tried over and over again to help this person, to be there for him, and to show him the love he never received at home. He didn’t respect me after all I had done and after the voicemails I had confirmation that he would not change and I’d always be with someone who didn’t respect me, my body, my feelings, or who felt I deserved the truth regardless of what the situation was.
There comes a time when you have to put yourself first as cliché as that sounds. My eyes didn’t open after the first time he hurt me. It’s always easier to say what you could have done differently but what I learned after I left the situation is that when you’re in an unhealthy relationship with someone who doesn’t recognize they have trauma of their own, there is a cycle that you end up in unwillingly. It is in my nature to care and love so when in a relationship with someone that was my first priority. In his case, I wanted to show him love and care for him in ways he told me he never experienced because of his family situation.
It always starts the same way: the honeymoon phase filled with promises to change, apologies after something happens, even gifts depending on what they did. Then the tension builds: they start to criticize you, the swearing starts and if they’re not able to coerce you to do what they want, they try again with anger. Lastly explosion: attacks and pain both emotional and physical. This cycle became me. Month after month and time and time and time again I experienced each one of these phases until one day I broke free – twenty four months was enough.
Trigger Warning: Mental Health
I wake up.
It takes me a few minutes for my mind to register that I’m in reality due to my incredibly vivid dreams. It takes me a few extra minutes to actually get up because I tend to feel groggy in the morning. That seems to be a side affect of the Seroquel. Seroquel is a medication often used for treating severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I have none of those things; I was prescribed it for sleep since my anxiety doesn’t really give a crap if I’m tired.
After I wake up I take Zoloft. Zoloft is an anti-depressant used to treat anxiety disorder as well. I have some water, make a healthy breakfast, and workout (something I’ve had to do recently due to the weight gain side effect of the Seroquel) soon after.
I never thought I’d end up being the kind of person who had to take medication every day but here I am.
I’ve had anxiety all my life, though my friends and family would disagree. Every time I open up to someone about my anxiety for the first time, I get the same reel of responses: “But you’re so outgoing!” “You should just drink water and eat healthy and cheer up!” “What do you have to be anxious/sad about?” and my personal favourite, “Everyone feels anxious sometimes. Stop being dramatic (because you know, I act and all that). It can’t be as debilitating as you make it out to be.”
People really seem to gloss over the disorder part of the term Anxiety Disorder.
“A mental disorder (also called a mental illness,  psychiatric disorder, or psychological disorder) is a diagnosis, most often by a psychiatrist, of a behavioural or mental pattern that may cause suffering or a poor ability to function in life.” -Wikipedia
Just putting that there for reference.
As a whole, others tend to be dismissive about learning about my anxiety even though I’m sure they mean well. The only people who haven’t been dismissive about it are people who suffer from mental illness themselves and are aware of it. Anxiety and other mental illnesses are rarely taken seriously from those who don’t suffer from it and though the tide is (slowly) but surely changing, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Anxiety has taken a lot from me. It’s taken away my sanity, dissolved friendships, enabled me as an easy target for emotional/psychological/sexual abuse, cost me career opportunities and actual employment and has essentially turned me into a recluse. I don’t go out nearly as much as I used to and when I get invited places or get coaxed into making plans, my anxiety gets the best of me and I end up either not showing up or cancelling. Then my anxiety gets even worse because of how guilty I feel for doing that. I think I would have been unstoppable if I didn’t have anxiety and that makes me feel terrible. I know that’s a lot to blame on a disorder but I really am trying my best. I’m trying even harder to not feel like my best isn’t good enough.
It’s been a few months since I’ve had to leave my previous job due to how bad my anxiety got and I’m still upset that I had to go. I had such a great time working where I was; I learned so much within such a short time. But that, my friends, is exactly what happens when you have an anxiety disorder that has been left untreated for a little over a decade. Since I was 10. That’s what happens when you’re apart of a culture that doesn’t believe in mental illness, a culture that thinks it’s a manifestation of the devil or some other supernatural disturbance instead of a legitimate medical condition. You can only sweep dirt under a rug for so long before somebody trips over the bump and it all comes seeping out.
You fall apart. The bandages you’ve strategically placed throughout the years, the same ones you thought were wrapped so tightly around you start peeling off, like layers of an onion. You become worse than you’ve ever been. A little storm cloud forms above your head and follows you everywhere you go. You start to disassociate. It gets harder and harder to get up in the morning. Harder and harder to put that default smile on your face (especially for customers), harder and harder to make it seem like everything is okay. You might end up in the hospital after a great shift, one that will unknowingly (at the time) be your last. You might then struggle for a little bit trying to get friends and family to understand what you’ve been saying to them all along in various forms- that you’re unwell and that you need help. Only this time it’s worse. This time you’re afraid you might not see your niece and nephew grow up because your illness has been swallowing you up like a black hole. That feeling might have been gradual over the years but now it’s accelerated fivefold. They still may not understand the gravity of the situation and think you’re being over dramatic (typical you). It might strain some relationships within your family even more but especially at a time where it feels like the whole universe is against you, you have to look out for you. As hindering as anxiety is, you have to choose life. Don’t let the fog scare you into thinking you are your anxiety. Choose therapy. Choose medication if recommended. Choose yourself.
Just a few months ago I was deemed severely impaired and unfit to work until further notice. I’ve been on my medication since then and they’ve helped immensely. I’m now trying my best to regain all of those years I’ve lost to a disorder I couldn’t control. I’m trying to be the person I’ve always wanted to be but it’s hard and it’s scary. My anxiety disorder will never go away but now that I have the tools to treat it and make my life livable again, I feel more confident than ever that I can make myself proud.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse
I saw him
He saw me too
Just like I always do when our paths cross
My heart dove into my stomach
I wanted to run and cry and yell and disappear
All at the same time
I saw him
The man who raped me
Last year around this time, I was sitting in a cafe
I heard his voice right behind me
He was talking to his friend, pretending not to see me
So with my heart beating way too fast, I pretended that I didn’t hear his voice
I pretended that we weren’t close friends a time long ago
I pretended that on that summer afternoon, he didn’t look into my eyes and tell me
When I heard his voice that day
I felt completely invisible
I felt like my whole being didn’t exist
When I walked outside
It immediately started to rain
The rain was a gift letting me know that I do exist
The wet drops on my skin and the wind in my hair told me that I am
A human being that is breathing, alive and visible to the world around me
When he saw me today
He lowered his eyes and his head and once again pretended that I was invisible
That what he did to me didn’t happen
That I didn’t exist
Are you alive?
These were his words to me, the day after it happened
These words would shatter my heart each time he crossed my mind
I want to say to you
Yes, I am alive
I am breathing
I am brave
I am brilliant
I am beautiful
I am worth so much more than the violence other people have inflicted onto my body, heart, and mind
To you, I say this:
You could not face me after it happened
You still cannot
And I understand
You don’t want to be a monster. You don’t want to be a villain
I want you to know that I forgive you
I forgive you because I no longer want to hold onto the pain I’ve carried for years
I no longer want my whole being to freeze when you cross my path
From this day forward, if our paths cross again, I will keep walking in strength and in peace
Shame and pain will no longer make me too afraid to acknowledge what you did to me
To you I ask:
Have you acknowledged what you did to me?
Have you forgiven yourself?
Today was the first time I was brave enough to go back to the place it happened
I am writing these words sitting in the place my body became yours
Without my permission
This is my healing, this is my closure
You will no longer haunt me
The tree beside me gives me comfort
At least I know, I was not alone.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse.
Family, to me, is supposed to mean safety. Security. People who would never dream of hurting you. Not everyone has the same idea of what family means, though. My cousin and I sure didn’t see eye to eye about that.
I was six. I think. It’s been a few years of repression for me to remember what my actual age was, not that it matters.
I was in Jamaica with my family, visiting my grandmother. My cousin lived with her at the time. My parents had gone into a nearby town to get hardware supplies. Concrete. My grandmother had gone with them to shop for groceries, therefore I was left alone for the time being with my teenage cousin.
Seems okay, right? I mean it’s not like I was a toddler or something, surely enough he was old enough and mature enough to watch me for an hour or two.
I remember reading in the room I was staying in, across from his. He called me over. I went eagerly, thinking he wanted to play a game or something. He wanted to play a game, but not the kind I was anticipating. He told me I was pretty. I said thank you. I sat on his bed, waiting for the game to start.
He hovered over me, eventually pushing me back on the bed. He started kissing me. My first kiss. He forced his tongue into my mouth, swirling it around. I think I went into shock. I kind of just… shut down. For years, I thought this meant I let it happen. That I wanted it. I later came to the conclusion that this wasn’t the case. His hands went places that I didn’t even know hands and fingers could go. I just lay there, motionless. He started kissing me harder and harder, undoing his pants. I shouldn’t know what my cousin’s penis looks like, but I do. That image was forced into me against my will, just like his fingers. He told me to hold it. I did. I honestly don’t even remember what was going on in my head at this point.
It’s funny how even writing this, I’m still subconsciously blaming myself for what happened. Still subconsciously telling myself that I let it happen, that I wanted it. That if I had done something then, I could have stopped it.
He continued to forcefully kiss me. His tongue tasted disgusting. I’m starting to think that this is why I’m not such a huge fan of French kissing at 24. He started to thrust in my hand. I think that’s what snapped me out of whatever trance I was in. I let go of his penis. My eyes grew wide. I started to panic. I think he sensed this too, because as soon as I sprung up, he pushed me right back down into the bed. Hard, like he still was. He clearly wasn’t finished with me yet. He put a firm hand on my chest, with enough force to keep me in position. With his other hand he yanked my shorts down. I started to kick. He got them down far enough to focus on what was going on between his legs. He started kissing me again, while trying to simultaneously rub his penis on my exposed genitals. This time, I bit him hard on his tongue. Hard enough for him to immediately yank his tongue out and pull back. I kicked him as hard as I could in the nuts and didn’t stick around to see the aftermath. After a brief struggle getting my shorts back up, I ran out the door, through the living room, though the kitchen to a hallway with outdoor access on either end. I had no shoes on, but I ran through anyway. I ran off of my grandmother’s property, down the gravel road to where my aunt lived, which was about a 5 minute run. She had dogs guarding her yard. I didn’t care, the adrenaline blinded me. I ran straight through, not caring if I got bit or barked at. Miraculously, none of that happened. I made it to her porch. She wasn’t home, but I hid there anyway.
That’s where my memory stops. Through years of repression, the details have become a little fuzzy but there were some parts about it that I could never forget. Parts that I wish I did forget. I tried telling my parents about what happened maybe a decade after what happened. It never got dealt with, so I never really brought it up again. Until recently.
Since then, I’ve gone to a few CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions and had a few heart-to-hearts with family. As much as I blamed myself and told myself that I wanted it over the years, I think I owe it to my childhood self to free her of that guilt. I’ve since learned to love myself in a way that I didn’t think was possible for me at the time. I deserve better than what happened and I’ve promised myself that I would do right by me. Healing has certainly started from within with me and I’m more than excited to see my progress in the coming years.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse.
Sexual abuse is a thief that comes in and violates your sense of protection, identity, purpose and robs many of us of our essential selves. This type of abuse has the capacity to steal years if not all of our lives. I have never judged and will never judge anyone who has completely given up on life or who has thought about giving up on life after experiencing this kind of abuse.
For those who have never experienced it, I pray it may never break into your life; your sacred space. For the rest of us who have experienced the utter devastation of this act(s) know that you are strength and whatever may have been violated and stolen mentally, physically and emotionally/spiritually, you are everlasting and unbreakable.
The first time I was sexually abused I was seven years old still living in the Caribbean. I was at school on the playground with my friends when a local villager passed by. He decided it was a good idea to grab a hold of me and place a blade to my neck while dragging me away from the school compound. As he was doing this, he took the liberty of placing his hands in some of the most intimate places on my young body. My friends had of course alerted the closest teachers who were able to intercept the man and get me safely away from him. When asked about the encounter later on I would only refer to being afraid of having the knife held to my neck-nothing else. I always thought that even though I never said the words my family members knew something more had occurred. As long as I did not speak about it, they were happy to leave the situation as is.
The second time I was sexually abused occurred when a family member touched me in inappropriate places as a nine year old child. To be perfectly honest, this is a memory I have worked hard at erasing over the years. Though I cannot provide much detail on that moment in my life, I do know it was the catalyst for much of my negative behaviour later on in life. I developed the habit of always seeking out men to take care of and protect me. Hoping deep down that one day I would be able to share this experience and they would know the right words to say and the right thing to do to defend me. As an adult I would recognize that my inherent need for male protection developed after this male protector in my life shattered my taught and inherent perceptions of family values.
The third time I was sexually abused, again, a family member violated my body. This time however, it was made known to my family. The response I received did not live up to my expectations; or at least the expectations of popular culture as to what should happen. Everything was handled quietly. I had no idea what conversations took place and counselling was never mentioned.
Later on in life I would learn these occurrences which I believed to be uncommon were very commonplace to most of the women and men in my life. When I finally spoke up about the second incident, the fact that they did not jump on their white horse and dash off to champion and defend my honour made more sense to me as an adult.
Now as I continue to self-heal, trying daily to bring myself to a place without hurt and anger; I know unequivocally, I am my own white knight. As hard as this may be to understand we have to acknowledge the depth of our strength and our spirits which is outside of the reach of these experiences.
For many of us, a large part of our strength of character will be shaped by these acts of violation. Wherever we are in life, it is always for us to remember we are beauty, untouched and ever protected in our spirits; where the best of our being dwells.