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.
That’s all that was demanded,
Nod your head when you’re supposed to,
Clean up after yourself,
Leave no trace,
Keep your head down,
Don’t let anyone see the bruises that are hidden beneath that name brand scarf.
My pain settled around my room like dust,
Forever frozen in place,
Floating through life,
Don’t stand out,
Shuffling down the halls in school,
Don’t get too close to anyone,
They will only let you down too.
Consumed by the darkness,
Bottled up emotions,
Screaming to be let out,
Silence the pain with food,
My hands became hand grenades,
Exploding at everything,
Stood a chance.
Flip of a switch,
The sun is shining in my eyes,
A curse has been broken,
Let it into your heart,
Realizing that there is,
A way out.
Learning to soar beyond the doubt.
Letting go of the narrative,
Experiencing the now,
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.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse.
There are murmurs in the shadows of my mind,
Whispers that ring loud and violent,
Sending ricochet of bullets through the waves,
Heavy, dangerous pieces of lead,
Louder and louder,
Your whispers demand my attention,
But my will is greater,
It can not be broken by the toxicity of recklessness.
Oh but the temptation is sweet,
The temptation to be dragged into the gully of despair,
That dark place where his dry scaly fingers steal my innocence,
That dark place where his thick smoked breath sucks my future pleasures away,
That dark place of HIS shame and guilt,
That dark place where for me to be loved,
I self destroy,
That is the dark place you wish to have me committed to,
Whisper as fierce and as aggressive as you want,
Whisper until the sound of your abuse suffocates you into silence.
I hear you but I no longer fear you,
I hear you but I am no longer imprisoned by you,
I hear you but I choose to rise above you.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse, Abortion.
The scars on my legs, even after two years, are still healing. I’m still waiting for the marks to go away. Back then, when they were fresh, he’d see the cuts and say if I was trying to punish myself I should have sliced deeper.
I can’t tell you exactly when he started to change. I have an idea, a rough time frame, but I can’t pinpoint the exact time because the shift wasn’t sudden and happened gradually.
Beginning of the relationship:
We met in 2008. I was 16 years old. We had class together. I still remember the first day I walked into the room. I was late and he was already seated. We locked eyes but I don’t remember ever really trying to speak to him again after that. I don’t think I even had interest in him at first or found him attractive. There was nothing compelling about him till we spoke. I guess all they say about mental connection is true because it was after our first conversation I was intrigued. After school that night I went home and searched him on Facebook but for some reason he was already on my friends list so I went ahead and messaged him. We added each other that night on MSN and it started from there.
By 2010 we were in a relationship. In those two years after meeting we built a friendship. I don’t think at ages 15 and 16 you really take relationships seriously anyway so when we were a little older and when we thought we were mature enough, we decided to give an official, committed relationship a shot. At first it was light, it was fun, it was innocent and we enjoyed each other. I looked forward to the messages after class on MSN and I waited for his text messages before I went to bed. We talked about everything. I couldn’t wait to get to school to see him or to run into him in the hallways. He wanted to understand why I did the things I did and why I said what I said. His approach was different and he seemed to genuinely care. So over some time trust was built and I opened up.
He didn’t just love my light, he listened to all that was dark and it felt like he could help me heal. Looking back now I don’t know if I was in love with him or the idea that someone could look past all I felt about me was messed up. No doubt this person became my best friend before it went sour. I needed someone to listen and I needed to feel like someone would stay. He was stable; whether or not deep down I was in love with him, I kept him. I’ve never had stability before.
This new relationship started and I felt like God was finally bringing something positive into my life. I felt like I was always dealt the worst hand. Don’t get me wrong; I knew I had many things to be grateful for. I had received an ample amount of blessings and amazing people to share these things with but there were also so many hardships I couldn’t quite grasp or make sense of its reason for happening.
I had 1001 walls built and he tried to knock all of these down. I didn’t want to let anyone in because I didn’t need anyone. My mentality was, “I had gotten this far without anyone and I don’t need someone starting now.” I tried over and over and over again to push him away but he didn’t budge. He stayed, he tried, he wanted to be there, he wanted to learn my triggers and he wanted me to get to better a place. He said he wanted me to succeed and he wanted to take care of me. Illusion.
He didn’t understand why I didn’t fully enjoy sex. He started to take it personally that I would never have an orgasm with him, that I couldn’t look him in the eyes or that when he tried to push his fingers in me I would push his hands away. My favourite position was doggie style and not because I enjoyed lying on my stomach or because I was lazy. I couldn’t handle intimacy. I was frustrated with myself too. My internal battle was affecting what I was trying to grow with this “wonderful” new person and so I told him what my “problem” was; I had been raped when I was 14, just three years before our relationship started and sex scared me. I was trying though. I wanted to try again with him but I was scared. I thought this would scare him away or that he would tell me it was too much but he stayed and we continued our relationship. This was the first major thing he learned.
One day he forgot and tried with fingers again and I started to cry. At first I laid there, hiding my face with his pillow so he wouldn’t see and I tried my best to enjoy it but I couldn’t. My sobbing grew louder and couldn’t be hidden anymore. He asked what was wrong and I told him at one point during the incident my rapist used his nails to violently scratch my vagina after he had finished with his penis. He never tried with his fingers again and this was the second major thing he learned.
Since he couldn’t pleasure me with his fingers he tried with his mouth. Any time his head started to get lower, I would pull his face up and stop this from happening almost immediately. He loved how I tasted but I hated that he always wanted more. Eventually he asked me why I wouldn’t let him where he wanted to go and I told him the first person to ever use his mouth on me was someone related to me. They both had beards. Even though I knew my partner wasn’t the older male who took advantage of me when I was eight years old, his beard touching my leg made me cringe. This was the third major thing he learned.
One night he was on his way to a party and asked me if I had a problem with it because women I didn’t know would be there. I said that I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly worried. This was conflicting for me: I love and adore women. I’ve been with women. I believe they deserve the most respect. I believe they are all survivors, they are all strong, and they are more than worthy of all things great. I hold all the females in my life on a pedestal – on the highest level is my mother. They never intimidate me, as I genuinely want all of us to succeed – but “daddy issues” do not disappear overnight. He asked me what worried me about women and I told him that it had to do with male interaction with females, males that I trust. I spent my entire childhood watching my mother cry because my father didn’t come home. I listened to her excuses for why he was absent but I let her believe I didn’t understand why he wasn’t there. When he was sober he was amazing. He was my favourite person in the whole world. When he drank I didn’t know who he was. I watched him hit her, abuse her – physically, mentally, verbally, you name it. I don’t think I can erase the image of a knife to her neck as my sister and I screamed and cried. She faced it. Later down the road as a grown woman my mother asked me if I thought she was weak and without hesitation I said no; she’s the strongest person I know. She does not need to explain her decisions and I was able to make sense of why she stayed. My partner at the time knew; he knew I was terrified of being cheated on and he knew it would kill me to find out he was involved with another woman. This was the fourth major thing he learned.
There he had it – I laid it all out for him. I trusted him to not hurt me. I saw this person as someone different so I exposed myself. All that made me vulnerable, all that made me the slightest insecure and all the details I promised I would keep private were now shared with someone I believed loved me. What I would later learn is that possession does not coincide with love; compliance is not a way to prove you’re genuine and eventually restraint will cause resentment.
I needed to understand him too so I dug. I wanted to know what he had experienced, if anything. He touched on having a father who was physically abusive to both him and his mother. I listened to him and although I couldn’t relate to my father ever putting his hands on me I understood how watching your mother experience something painful could affect you whether it be now or later. I understand the construct of hyper-masculinity and how males are conditioned to behave a certain way and I also understood that one of the first ways he learned to treat a woman was by inflicting pain. I just didn’t think he’d ever do it to me. Call me naïve – I thought I could reverse his way of thinking.
I decided I would be there for him the same way he was for me. At this point in my head he was still this “wonderful” new person who knew everything about me, wanted to help me, who didn’t find me to be unworthy after all he had learned and who wouldn’t use anything he knew to make me feel worse about things that already made me feel ashamed. And again, so I thought.
Two people searching for love will never find it. He said he didn’t feel cared for at home and I said the same. He told me I was the person to show him the most love, more than his family did. I told him I loved that I made him feel this way. So I did what was in my nature – I stayed to help him feel something the same way I needed to. What I also understand now is that two people searching for love will have two different definitions of what love is. My definition consists of nurturing, the ability to remain autonomous and free, forgiveness, understanding, and to give wholeheartedly. Later I learned his definition of love consisted of control and manipulation, power, compliance and to inflict pain, just like his father, as an act of self – fulfilment.
Middle of the relationship/The Slow Shift:
He expressed he hated all of my male friends and my exact words were, “that’s unfortunate.” He knew who I was, he knew I was “that girl,” the only female to get invited to an all male party as “one of the guys.” That wasn’t going to change. Red flag number one.
He didn’t like that my girlfriends were a priority. I never did anything to make him feel he wasn’t important or included but if any of the women in my life needed me, I made sure to be there. He thought this put him second and he didn’t like this. Red flag number two.
He constantly called my phone if I was out with my friends. He needed to make sure there wasn’t a guy around. No matter how much I tried to reassure him that I’d never cheat on him he didn’t believe me. Red flag number three.
He started to monitor who was messaging me. He would constantly argue with me about male friends he didn’t know. He got upset when these friends ‘liked’ my pictures on Instagram or Facebook. Eventually I had to turn notifications off on my phone because I didn’t want to deal with him. Red flag number four.
I put up a fight. Always. He wasn’t going to control me or tell me what to do. I was going to hang with my boys, I was going to party wherever I wanted to and I was going to return the call of whichever one of my male friends was calling even if it was right in front of him. This didn’t mean I was immature or not ready for a relationship. This displayed how controlling he was. It wasn’t disrespect. I didn’t have to alter my behaviour because he was insecure. He didn’t like how he looked and felt he was stagnant in life. He wasn’t working and I was on top. I was always on top. I had money and I was taking care of myself. I was always involved with numerous projects at once. I had friends and I was well known. People knew who I was but only knew him as my boyfriend. I was stronger than him, mentally. I challenged him and he didn’t like it. Later down the line he would come to tell me that he was intimidated by me and this explained his much of his behaviour.
Instead of leaving him at this point, two years in, I decided I would stay and help tackle his insecurities and all that made him uneasy. What I didn’t understand is that you cannot help someone that does not want to be helped or who believes his actions can be justified. He looked at me as his possession instead of his equal. It’s not your job to “help,” period. At times I knew things he did and said was wrong but he was my first serious boyfriend. His actions after years of inconsistency and instability in my home, felt somewhat okay. I was desensitized to so much after seeing my mother go through worse. I felt I had it better. I don’t feel this way now but back then it felt normal.
The first time he called me out my name I let it slide. After all he didn’t know better, right? He had watched his father do it to his mother and so he didn’t actually mean it when he repeated the words to me, right? Wrong. We had just finished shopping and we were on our way home. He wanted to spend time with me later in the evening but I told him I couldn’t – I had plans with the guys. He looked me dead in my eyes and called me a whore and he said he knew what I was doing when I was out with them and I wasn’t answering his messages. This fight escalated quickly and I defended myself. I tried to level with him but he said I was a bitch for arguing with him, then he said I was a cunt and then for whatever reason started to name people I slept with before knowing him and called me a slut. He looked at me again and said I was deserving of the rape because all I did was flirt with men anyway. He used major incident number one as a way to make me feel the lowest I could possibly feel. I tried to walk away from this argument but he kept following and blocking me. He didn’t want me to leave. Possession. I ended up having to call one of my friends to pick me up to get me away from him. Slowly I started to shut down and his way of speaking to me continued. I’ve always believed the most important thing in a relationship is not communication, but forgiveness. So I forgave him and we continued.
The hard part of the relationship – middle to end:
February 17th 2012 one of my best friends asked me to watch her son. I asked him if he wanted to tag along and keep me company that night as he had the night off work. My friend went on her date; I locked her door, put her son to bed, and fucked him in her living room.
March 28th 2012 I took a pregnancy test in the washroom at my school. Positive. I didn’t cry because I was happy. I ran back to my classroom to get two of my girls. I took them down the hallway and we plopped on the floor. I showed them the test and I told them how excited I was. I called him to let him know. His response: “you’re a cunt, that’s not my baby, didn’t we talk about how much of a whore you are and that you’re sleeping with other guys? Get rid of it.” This was when I started to cry.
When he calmed down he called me back and we spoke. He said he would leave school to pick me up. He asked me what I was craving and said he would take me to eat. He said he was sorry, that he actually was excited and that he was wrong for what he said. Forgiveness. So we continued.
We decided we were going to keep our baby. Agreed – the timing was probably the worst, our families wouldn’t be happy, but we both believed it was a blessing.
Then he changed his mind. Over and over he changed his mind. One minute it was all a go then he called me a dirty whore and said I needed to get rid of “it.” Then when he decided we would keep our baby I was the person he loved the most, his best friend, and he couldn’t wait to see what our baby looked like. Forgiveness.
Of course he changed his mind again after that. My anxiety disorder worsened. After the sexual abuse I had experienced earlier on and now being pregnant and having someone verbally abuse me every day, it escalated to a point where it was uncontrollable and I was having anxiety attacks several times a day. Both my mental and physical health was deteriorating. I woke up to text messages where he asked me if I woke up in a pool of blood and to only respond if I miscarried. Before I went to bed I received messages where he told me I was filth, I asked to be raped, and that he doesn’t want to have babies with a dirty woman so I should abort. Messages like these continued for weeks, all day and all night.
I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. How could I? They looked at me as the strong one of the group; I was the mother. I took care of everyone else. My relationship on the outside looked perfect. How could I possibly go to my friends and tell them I needed help? He knew I’d never tell anyone. I believed whatever happens in a relationship stays between the two people so I never said a word. Maybe I was also trying to protect him.
April 3rd 2012 I had an abortion. I couldn’t take him anymore. Secretly, deep down, I didn’t want his child. I wanted my child but I didn’t want his. I cried and cried feeling like I killed my baby and carried this guilt for years but I did what I had to do. I thought maybe he would change if I made him happy and our relationship would be good again after the abortion but he wouldn’t touch me or look at me the entire time. From the moment he picked me up till I got home he wouldn’t engage with me. I was sitting on the floor in the hallway outside of the clinic and reached up for a hug but me pushed me down to the floor and asked me to not speak to him. I sat there and cried till it was my turn.
After we left the clinic he still wouldn’t speak to me. I was drowsy from the drugs and I remember him walking ahead of me, not turning back once to help me. I fell trying to get inside of my house and he yelled at me telling me to hurry the fuck up because he had to get home. I thought this would be the end of him but it wasn’t.
Exactly one week after the abortion I woke up to a text message from him saying was really tired. I called him to say hi and asked why he didn’t sleep well. He told me he was up until 3am talking to his ex girlfriend, almost taunting me with this. I hung up and had an anxiety attack. He used incident number four to hurt me.
I drank every single night for months. The drinking stopped when I started cutting myself. I never understood why people hurt themselves but that day I did. It made me feel better. Also, I was working and I couldn’t handle a hangover while there. At the time it was the quickest and easiest way to release. I fell into a deep depression. After being pregnant for two months I was attached to my baby and I couldn’t wrap my head around the termination. Regret. I wouldn’t accept help from my friends. Most of them didn’t understand and I was ashamed to go to the ones that did. I felt alone. Two of my best friends were away in another country and I couldn’t face my family. I was young too. I didn’t even really understand what was happening. I tried to continue like everything was okay but it wasn’t.
You act in ways outside your usual character when you feel like you don’t have anyone. Or when you tell yourself you don’t have anyone. One day after an anxiety attack I attempted suicide. I still remember that day like it was yesterday – I was laying on the floor in my basement crying about my baby. I tried but was unsuccessful. I panicked and called my friends but they didn’t answer me. The next person I called to take me to the hospital was him. He picked me up to take me but cussed at me the entire way there, cussed at me every time the doctors left the room and cussed at me before he left. He was upset he had to miss work.
He knew at this point he had some kind of power over me. He saw how much I loved him after I begged for us to keep our child and after I begged him to be treat me better but stayed even though he didn’t. One minute he was great, one minute he was horrible. It was almost like he was testing me every single time and I didn’t budge. When he wanted to see me weak and have an anxiety attack, he’d mentioned his ex. When he wanted to see me cry he would say if I were a stronger woman I would have held onto the baby despite all that he did. I started to internalize all of this. Love can be wonderful and it can be the most beautiful thing but it can also be the most darkest, damaging, and hurtful thing when used as a weapon.
At times I would be having an anxiety attack and he would hover me saying and doing things that would make them worse for me. I would lie there crying, hyperventilating, having absolutely no control over my body and he would laugh and smirk as I begged him to hold me and calm me down. He wouldn’t touch me. Instead he would say, verbatim, “everyone thinks you’re this strong woman but I know exactly how to break you down, I know I can control you.” At one point after the abortion he wanted to have sex but I was still bleeding. I told him I couldn’t and that he’d have to give me a few days. We were out driving one day and continued to do so till he said, “no I want it now, let’s pull over.” I didn’t really know how to react and I kind of just looked at him. I told him I was cramping and in pain. He said, “Guess I should just call my ex.” Compliance.
We went to a parking garage. He entered me, pulled out, looked at the blood on himself and told me “I was absolutely disgusting,” put his pants back on and we left. Another time after that when I stopped bleeding we attempted sex and he saw the marks on my leg after cutting. He looked at me and said if I was trying to punish myself I should have sliced deeper. According to him I was responsible everything that happened.
There was a monster in this man I could not tackle. Even if I tried to tackle it I’d never be successful. I wanted to stick by him and I wanted to help him change but even thinking he could be changed to suit me was a mistake in itself. I’ve always been a strong woman. And in these moments where it sounds like I was weak, I wasn’t. Abuse comes in many forms but starts with manipulation. Mental abuse is hard to recognize at first since it doesn’t leave obvious marks and it’s not always blatant and in your face. It can be characterized by the manipulation and invalidation of a person. Anything he did and said to me was to invalidate me as a woman, first starting with invalidating my strength.
I was trying to work towards a better place for myself and he recognized this. I tried to leave him numerous times but he would threaten to swallow a bottle of pills or hurt himself and I’d stay – thinking it wasn’t who I met back in 2008 and that he needed help too. I felt trapped. Remember what I said about forgiveness being the most important thing in a relationship? The act of forgiveness can destroy you.
Nobody believed me when I tried to share what this person did and said to me until I showed proof. I showed them my phone so they could see his text messages and one night his best friend listened to him on speaker as he cussed at me the day after my birthday. He was mad guys were flirting with me at my party. Everyone viewed him as this sweet and lovely person. Only I knew who he was.
He wanted compliance but that wasn’t in my nature. He needed someone to control and maybe at my weakest moment he had that but it didn’t continue for long. Recognizing red flags isn’t as easy as it seems when you pair all that I went through at home and as a child with what he was doing. I’ve learned now.
Our cores do not change. My heart and my core is different and will never be the same as his. At the center of his core was darkness, and at the center of mine, despite all that I had gone through, was light. People will choose to show you what they want but deep down they will always be the same.
He started our relationship saying he admired how strong I was but this was far from the truth. This relationship ended one night after a party. We went to one of our friend’s house and afterwards attempted to have sex. I got on top of him; I kissed and licked his neck, pushed his head between my breasts, begged him to suck on my nipples and moaned as he did. Then I hopped off to turn on my back, waiting for him to fuck me. I was wet and ready to go. He slid in me and I pushed him off me and sat up. Something shifted, I don’t know what or why, or even when, but I looked him dead in his eye and said, “get the fuck off me, you disgust me.” Karma. I put my clothes on and I left. I was ready to move on.
If your partner had to be in a state of distress and depression for you to feel happiness, even in the slightest, you’re weaker than them even at their lowest. He started to slowly realize towards the end of our relationship how much his family impacted his life and he started to slowly see exactly how damaging he had been but at that point when he finally realized a change needed to be made, I was ready to walk. He cried, he called me and begged me to work things out but it was too late for me.
Relationships and what being in a relationship entails can be confusing. This idea of sticking by someone no matter what they do or say to you will make you forget about what your needs are and what makes you happy. This is not called sacrifice for the other person; this becomes self-destructive for you. I stopped worrying about what he needed when I chose to leave because I started to see that nurturing each other’s needs was not being done mutually. It wasn’t easy to move on or to make sense of most of what happened. My focus became healing on my own and without him – he was the root of the issues.
I forgot for a short while but I know who I am. What he planted in my head was slowly removed. I am none of the things he tried to tell me I am. Instead of continuing a relationship with someone who constantly reminded me of everything that caused me pain I decided to start a new journey, standing alone. I have to live with my decisions and I know why I made them. I cannot question or punish myself for anything that happened before him, during our relationship, or even after. Forgiveness. And so I continued.
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, Physical Abuse.
I grew up sitting on the poverty line. Proud Caribbean parents who took absolutely no nonsense raised me and luckily for me, I had both of them in my life. My mother, a workaholic, also took great pride in maintaining her home. My father, arrived in Canada at age 13, was a former musician and unlike my mother was more eccentric and outgoing. They wanted the best for my siblings and were always pushing us to get the best grades so we could become doctors or lawyers one day.
My parents both worked a lot and regardless of the hours they worked, found it difficult to afford daycare so they often looked to neighbours to babysit my brothers and I while they were at work. Little did my parents know: my babysitter would become my rapist. I didn’t understand much of what she did to me until I started watching porn at age 14. I suppressed most of this incident for much of my life and felt intense sexual urges but felt shame attached to this feeling. My parents realized I experienced these urges one day when they caught me with my pants down in my room touching myself. I explained to them that I was doing something the babysitter and I would do when my brothers weren’t around. Needless to say, she didn’t babysit after that.
As with most Caribbean families, spankings as a form of punishment is quite normal. As I grew and became a less mischievous child, I long forgot what those beatings felt like until I reached the stage in my life where I hit puberty. My father grew weary of me becoming sexual and would constantly stop me from wearing certain clothing and wouldn’t allow me to go out after school unless it was for an activity tied to schooling. This was somewhat understandable to me as I understood my parents’ upbringing and why my sexuality might be a problem for them but it was also conflicting because my brothers were allowed the freedom I craved even though I had always been the most responsible one of their children. I grew resentful and started lying to my parents about extracurricular activities so I could spend time with my friends after school.
For background, I had always been an honour roll and sometimes principal’s honour roll student. I’d participate in extracurricular activities in school, was in the school’s orchestra, and made sure my brothers were always taken care of and the house was clean before my parents got home from work. I was able to achieve and maintain all of these things starting from the age of 8. Even with all this, my parents still didn’t feel like I could be trusted out of the house with friends or have male friends over even if they were home. This was upsetting for me because I had always been a tomboy and most of my friends were males.
At age 16 I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wanted to hang out with my male friends and so I did regardless of what consequences came later. My father didn’t like the rebellious nature I developed and he punished me by beating me. When he saw that the beatings didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted, he became harsher: beatings with cables, choking, he would bash my head against the concrete floor, rip my hair out and verbally abuse me; calling me everything from a prostitute, to a crack head, to a bitch. I found myself facing severe depression.
I lost my virginity at age 16 to my boyfriend after one year of dating. We broke up after two years as he didn’t know how to deal with the black eyes and welts on my body that my father would leave. A man ten years older than me raped me for months because he knew about my boyfriend and threatened to tell my father so I stayed quiet and endured the sexual abuse that came. I didn’t see this as cheating, I saw this as a way to protect and save my relationships because if my parents found out, my relationship would be over. Once I realized he was doing this to other young girls, I stopped this because I now had information to threaten him with so he would leave me alone. I was still afraid of him so I didn’t go to the police but I felt by did my part by warning him against doing this to anyone else. I had low self-esteem at the time and could only scare him with his words.
Between the ages of 17-19 I turned to sex to relieve myself of my depression from the lack of freedom I was given, the sexual abuse, and the beatings from my father. My parents had already categorized me as a whore so it didn’t matter to me what I did with my body. They created my sense of worthlessness. The only thing that could stop me from researching ways to kill myself was finding a boy who wanted to be my boyfriend for a while and having as much sex with him as possible. It filled a void and I got into abusive relationship after abusive relationship with multiple men.
When I was 19 I realized I couldn’t continue the method I was using and instead turned to excessive weed and alcohol to help my feelings of self-hatred and depression. At the time and to only me, this seemed like a great time in my life. I met someone and I was in the best relationship I had ever been in and it lasted two years; we still remain friends to this day. During this period though, I would party every weekend and drink every day with other alcoholic friends but thought I was functioning because I managed to get through work every day. Even when sneaking vodka in McDonalds cups to work I didn’t realize I had a problem. Now, I can’t look at vodka without feeling nauseous.
My parents had been threatening to kick me out since I was 17. At times I would leave and sleep at my boyfriends house or a close friend of mine for long periods of time until my mother eventually asked me to come home. My life remained turbulent until I turned 21 when I moved out on my own. My ex and I were broken up but still remained close. I hadn’t let my parents get to know him because my father had always physically fought me whenever I tried to bring a guy friend home and I didn’t want my ex to see what my home life was like.
One day I was feeling my lowest. I lost my job, I had betrayed a close friend of mine and we were no longer close, and I felt unaccomplished because I wasn’t successful at completing my post secondary education despite several attempts to start. I felt like nothing more than a whore who had wasted her life. All the nasty things I had heard about myself is what I started to believe.
I asked my ex of two years to come over one day because I needed someone to talk to; I was feeling suicidal and didn’t trust myself to be alone. My father came home early and before I could explain what was happening he began choking me in front of my ex. I was mortified and this time tried to fight back. I called the police because I couldn’t handle the abuse any longer but when they arrived they sided with my father. I was outraged. Luckily my ex stood by me through the entire process and that night I went to sleep at his house. His home where he stayed with his family felt like more of a loving environment than my own.
This became my turning point. The next day I went home and packed all of my things and stayed with a friend. I had no idea where I was going from there but I managed to talk another friend into letting me stay with her for six months, using my welfare to pay a portion of the rent until I got back up on my feet. From there I got and maintained a job and secured my own apartment where I lived for two years until I started going back to school. I had mostly quit the heavy drinking that contributed to me being stagnant and when I was 21 I started participating in healthy activities such as yoga and playing my violin. At 24 I moved back into my mother’s house, focusing primarily on my education and my job. I began helping her pay bills and was happy to contribute to the household financially because she had kicked my father out after I decided to come back. I was more than happy to help her make her house a home again.
I am now preparing myself for my next move to Montreal where I will finish a degree in agricultural science and make a difference for other people’s families who have as little or maybe less resources than my own family did when we first started out. I won’t lie and say that some days I don’t imagine I’m still that destructive young girl who had nothing to live for and was ready to end it all but those days are so far and few for me now. I will never say I’m grateful for all of the things that happened to me in the past and throughout my life but I am more than happy with the woman that has emerged from those events. I am stronger than ever and I am ready to make a difference in the world.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse.
It was a late December night and I was excited that I could finally get into a club. It was my nineteenth birthday, the night I got pregnant.
The previous year my girlfriends went off to university and since that time the connection we built over the four years during high school was slowly lost. I had taken a year off of school because I was at a point in my life where I was confused about what to do next or even how I felt about myself. Growing up in a household of violence and addiction really took its toll on me and I needed to figure out how to move forward with my life even though I was still living in a hostile environment. Slowly the violence and addiction of a family member had subsided so I made the decision to go back to school although the trauma, pain and lack of love were still there. On top of it, my mother had been going through a very tough time in her life and struggled with her mental health since I was twelve – this too made it difficult for me to navigate as a young woman who wasn’t able to discuss much of anything with her mother.
I began drinking at 16 and smoking at 12. People thought it was because I wanted to “fit in” but mostly it was because I needed a way to cope with everything that was falling apart around me. I learned at a young age that the way to cope was through the use of drugs and alcohol. The volatile environment I called home was a ‘no talking zone’ where feelings and love could never be spoken about freely or honestly. Violence was the norm – a way to express yourself. Addiction to drugs and alcohol was not hidden and suicide attempts were front and centre. At only twelve years old I was trying to figure out how to cope with seeing all these things; coming up with stories to tell my teachers if they asked me where the bruises and deep cuts on my forehead, legs and arms came from, while my friends hung out peacefully at home complaining about their parents not wanting them to wear mascara because they thought they were too young.
The night of my nineteenth birthday I accepted the invitation of two male co-workers to go out to a club downtown Toronto to celebrate. One of my friends picked me up in a cab where we would then meet the other at the apartment he lived in downtown. He bought me a Ciara album for my birthday and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had already bought it. I left my bag at my friend’s apartment downtown because we had discussed earlier in the day that I could stay the night to save money by not having to take a cab home. I lied to my father and said I would be staying the night with a girlfriend of mine. We made our way to the club and got in without an issue. There were no assumptions or expectations for the night ahead, at least on my end. We were all friends.
I had a crush on one of the guys that came out that night. We spoke about it in the past as the feelings were mutual but there were no plans to act on it. Growing up I never received much attention from boys. I was the quiet girl yet quick to stand up for myself or anyone else that was bullied or picked on. I was the girl who couldn’t afford to wear expensive clothes. The girl who barely passed her classes and came to school with bruises and cuts, the girl who hung out at the back of the school drinking and smoking; I was the girl who was never asked by anyone if she was okay. So, to receive the attention of an older attractive man was exciting but intimidating and nerve wracking for me. I wasn’t ready for anything from him – not even a kiss. We would be friends, I decided.
As I danced the night away one of my friends decided to go home so it was just the two of us left: me and the one I had a crush on. He kept bringing me Smirnoff after Smirnoff after Smirnoff while he sipped on water the whole night. He was a fitness and health buff so he wasn’t interested in alcohol whatsoever. I think I lost count at four Smirnoff Ice’s. As 3am rolled around it was time to leave and we headed back to his place where I had left my stuff earlier in the night. He took me on a tour of his building, showing me the amenities it had to offer, and then we headed up. We agreed that nothing would happen that night and even decided we would sleep head to feet. From there things got blurry.
On my nineteenth birthday I was raped.
When I gave birth to my son my whole life changed. Not only because I became a single mother at nineteen years old but something felt off. I didn’t realize I was raped on my nineteenth birthday until I was 25 years old. I always knew something didn’t feel right but I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t have a label for it. I slipped into a deep depression that I couldn’t even recognize. I didn’t know I was severely depressed for the first several months of my son’s life until well into my twenties. I remember having a hard time doing just about anything. I stopped calling friends, answering their calls or returning them. They slowly stopped inviting me out not realizing that something serious was going on for me. Then the phone calls stopped. I lived with my parents at the time and my father, now a sober and completely different man, was extremely supportive. He knew what was going on with me even though I didn’t but he didn’t know how to help me. He would let me sleep while he took care of my son. He would feed him, bathe him, and hold him when I couldn’t. He would try to talk to me but was only met with anger or silence. He would encourage me to go out and take care of myself. I resisted but eventually accepted. I would go out not to drink but to get drunk. I had this constant need to escape so that the pain I couldn’t label would go away.
When I was 25 I decided to see a counsellor. I was always hesitant to go to one but I finally decided to. I forced myself because I needed someone to talk to. I had run into my sons ‘father’ after six years of his chosen absence and I was beginning to have confusing memories; flashbacks to my nineteenth birthday and confusing thoughts that I didn’t understand. Within five minutes the counsellor had me in tears and within ten she told me it was normal to feel the way I was feeling about running into my sons ‘father’ because he raped me. I let the word sit in the air, not understanding it; as if I didn’t even recognize it. I remember this intense anger boiling up inside of me towards her. I screamed, “I was not raped!” I immediately grabbed my bag and ran out the door making sure I slammed it on the way out.
I didn’t understand how a complete stranger could tell me I was raped. Wouldn’t I know? Of course I would know. Right? I willingly drank on my nineteenth birthday. I went back to his place on my own free will. I put my pajamas on and decided to sleep in his bed. What do you mean I was raped? But then everything started making sense. The fact that I didn’t remember my clothes being taken off and that I didn’t remember having sex. Do you even call that sex? What would you even call it? I went to sleep but woke up during the night to him on top of me. I vaguely remember trying to push his body off mine. In the morning I woke up without clothes and I couldn’t stop wondering how. I recall going to the washroom in the morning and crying because I didn’t understand what was dripping out of me.
I always thought rape had to be violent until I was 25.
Growing up I was told what rape should look like. It was described as violent, aggressive, and painful – an event that will have you running for your life; for your well-being, mentally and physically. So how could this counsellor possibly think that I was raped? It wasn’t violent, it wasn’t aggressive, and I don’t recall feeling any pain. I didn’t wake up with any injuries. I didn’t have to run for safety. So how was it possible for someone who had only known me for ten minutes claim that I was raped on my nineteenth birthday?
Then I began to remember. I was drunk and was given drinks until I was at a point where I couldn’t even defend myself or give consent.
Consent. That was the missing piece. That was what I was missing for so many years.
Yes, I went back to his place. Yes, I laid down to sleep. No, I didn’t give consent. How could I? I was heavily intoxicated. Blacking out. Unable to even understand how and when my clothes even came off. Was a condom used? I didn’t know. I had no idea because I couldn’t remember anything. I willingly went back to his place but my intention was to sleep, his wasn’t. He was sober and I was not.
For years I blamed myself for getting pregnant at nineteen and for getting drunk that night. For trusting someone enough to sleep at their place. I did not want to have sex with him that night. Yes, I had a crush on him but I was not ready to have sex with him. I did not want to have sex with him. I just wanted to sleep but he decided he wanted to have sex with me. He did not have a drop of alcohol the whole night – he knew what he was doing and I wasn’t in the right state of mind to say no, to deny consent. And yet I did physically but it was ignored.
That night he took a piece of me. He helped himself to my body and made me feel like a stranger inside of it for years. He turned my life upside down and walked away with no consequences. No repercussions.
My rapist doesn’t know he is a rapist.
My rapist is my son’s father.
My son is my life. He is everything to me. I am his mother and he has no father and never will. My son is innocent and is not to blame for anything that happened that night. He has nothing to do with any of it. He did not ask for this to happen. He did not ask to have a rapist for a father.
My son changed my life – for the better. He makes me see the world in a completely different way. He is my light, my motivation and my life. I love him with every cell in my body. When I look at my son I see him and only him, not the man that raped me. My son is an innocent light full of love and this is all I see when I look at him; peace. I wouldn’t change what happened on my nineteenth birthday because then I wouldn’t have my son and yet I would want to. These are complicated feelings that I can never fully express or explain and I don’t think I will ever be able to but the people in my life would get this.
Rape doesn’t have to be violent in order for it to be considered rape. This is one thing I wish I was told when I was young. I blamed myself for getting pregnant for so many years before I realized that it wasn’t my fault. I went out to have a good time – to dance and have some drinks. The plan was to go back to a trusted friend’s house to sleep. Period. Full stop. I am not to blame. It was not my fault. The only thing that was my fault was trusting the wrong person to spend my time with, and even then, don’t we all at some point in our lives?
On my nineteenth birthday I was raped. Nine months later my son gave me a new life; a life full of hope, joy and unconditional love. My son has healed me in ways I could have never imagined and I am truly thankful for him. He is not to blame. I am not to blame. It was not our fault.
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.