I Learned About Masturbation from My Stepfather

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.

I Hit My Breaking Point

Introduction:

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.

Anger Issues:

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.

Panic:

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.

YESTERDAY

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.

Living with Anxiety

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, [1] 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.

He Said if I was Trying to Punish Myself I Should Have Sliced Deeper

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.