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.
I used to think the idea that someone could be unhappy for no reason at all was kind of absurd. I don’t think anyone can truly grasp the idea until they themselves have felt depressed. I’ve always had low self-esteem but I thought it was a relatively normal feeling to have. It wasn’t until today that I truly had the courage to say out loud that I am suffering. I am not even entirely sure if you can call it anxiety or depression if you haven’t been diagnosed but for right now I think that’s the best word I can think of to describe how I’m feeling. It’s the craziest feeling when you realize that your biggest critic is yourself or one of your loved ones. I know that there are a lot of factors contributing to the way that I feel. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be better, look better, act better and to wipe away my tears before people notice I’m upset. The only person I have met that is harder on me then myself is my mom. I used to think our relationship was a little crazy but nothing out of the ordinary… after all, everyone’s parents get upset and every parent can get a little out of control sometimes when they are trying to do what is best for their child but this, this was different.
It wasn’t until high school that I started to notice how truly wrong I was about the severity of my situation. Everyone has or has had issues but that didn’t make the way she was treating me okay. The woman who I called mom became my worst nightmare but to the world, she was just a loving mom who was just very involved in her daughter’s life. Every time I hit that breaking point where I knew I was in danger and I tried to get myself help she would spin the story to whoever I told and she would always worm her way back in. I’m a smart girl and I know how this sounds… poor girl with her caring mom who just wants the best right? If others weren’t thinking it, I definitely was because this is the game she played. The thing is, not only did she try and control when I went to sleep, who I hung out with, what boys I liked, how I dressed and how much money I spent she also tried to tear me down when I tried to stand up to her. Every time we had these fights I would go back to her and every time she would tear me down as soon as I tried to rebel. I wasn’t a perfect daughter: I went to sleep late and had trouble waking up in the morning for school, I didn’t have healthy eating habits and I procrastinated a lot on my school work but I have always been a hard worker, a caring person, any time I’ve noticed myself get off track I have always been sensible enough to get back on track. The truth is, a lot of these positive qualities may also be a direct result of how I was raised and this was part of the problem. My mom didn’t see how bad she was hurting me because she was too busy “trying to help.” I am not going to lie, to this day I still feel like I need help getting my shit together but the problem is that she doesn’t know how to help me without hurting me. There was this one time when I came home from school (I think I was 15 at the time) and we had a fight over a boy and also about how late I had stayed up watching TV. I locked myself in the bathroom to get away from her and she told me that while I was in there that I should just go ahead and cut myself. She was angry and I knew what she said was out of anger but she was always angry. Every single day of my life she has been angry. Well, now I’m angry. I’m angry at her for making me feel useless, unloved, uncertain, scared, alone, helpless, less-then and sad. I’m also angry for when she tries to make me feel happy, proud, accomplished and loved because what right does she have to tear me down and build me back up and how and I supposed to forgive her or believe her or stay mad at her when I don’t know what’s real or how bad she is truly struggling. Years have passed since high school and it’s always the same fights or even some new ones. I try and fix myself and whether I fail or succeed, the torment never ends only this time not only is she tearing me down but so is the depression.
This past summer I went on a trip with my brother and I was really nervous about it. To be completely honest, my brother and I aren’t very close. Growing up we could never get along so as I grew older I tried to distance myself away from him but last year in January we sort of had this breakthrough moment where I finally felt like I was starting to understand him. My brother just like myself and my mom, is incredibly socially awkward. The awkward part I can deal with, but he also doesn’t have much of a filter. His lack of filter has gotten him into a lot of trouble. In addition to going on this trip with my brother, I was also nervous when I found out that people from my high school would be on the trip. The people I went to high school with were extremely superficial and just plain rude to anyone who had the audacity to try and live the own lives. I decided before the trip that I would try and do my own thing and stay away from these people but my brother’s lack of filter tends to attract a lot of attention. At first, I tried to distance myself from my brother and try and make friends with other people on the trip but after a while, I stopped caring about how much attention he was attracting and I stuck by him. The thing about my brother is even when he says things that attract attention or piss people off I can tell he genuinely means well and he just wants to be understood. Although my relationship with my brother is not perfect I really do enjoy his company. Even when I realized all of this and started to enjoy myself on the trip, I found myself feeling panicked. One night at dinner, for no reason at all, I felt it start to reach an extreme. I don’t really know what brought it on but I found myself rushing out of the room up the stairs until I reached my room where I locked the door and began to panic. I had trouble trying to take deep breaths and calm down. Eventually, I just began to sob and freak out. After a while, I managed to calm myself down wipe away my tears to go back downstairs where everyone else was, and pretend like nothing had happened. A few days later one of the girls who had been hanging out with the boys from my high school approached me and told me she was happy I came on the trip, we hadn’t spoken much before this point so it was kind of weird when she asked me if I had anxiety. It was pretty out of the blue, to be honest… I’m not sure if she heard me freak out or just noticed how socially awkward I was but for some reason, it was comforting to say “yes” out loud, even if she was pretty much a random stranger to me. Overall I had a really good time on the trip but ever since I got home I have been noticing these anxiety attacks happen more and more. Out of nowhere, I will find myself go from completely fine to curling up in my bed or the shower or the couch, sobbing my eyes out.
I hit my breaking point yesterday in the grocery store bathroom when I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t know what had made the face staring back at me so sad. How had I gotten here? One minute I had been walking into the grocery store and the next I found myself rushing to the bathroom clenching my fists and holding back tears. I have been upset before but not for no reason. Not long ago I watched an episode of this show I like called Party of Five, where this woman was so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed or take care of herself and I remember thinking how weird it was to be so upset over nothing. Yesterday was the first day I think I truly understood how she felt. Once I got out of the washroom I went outside to get some fresh air and I called my friend and I told her what had happened. After talking it out I know now that I can’t just expect this to go away.
Trigger Warning: Physical Abuse, Pregnancy, Abortion.
Seven years ago I met someone I believed would love me unconditionally, someone I thought I could possibly build a future with despite all I had been warned about. In the back of my head I felt at times something about him was off but I fought the unsettling feeling in my stomach and I chose to ignore what my friends continued to say. Logic aside, I chose to follow my heart.
We met through mutual friends one summer and initially I thought he was attractive. My friends didn’t think so but in this situation I didn’t really think it mattered what they thought. I heard about his past and I knew his lifestyle was a bit crazier than what I was used to but this excited me so anything he did outside of our relationship did not bother me at first. I knew he was a party animal but I didn’t allow that to be an issue either – I joined him.
Our one-on-ones came later; we first started hanging out in-group settings with our mutual friends at clubs. One night on the way to a club he asked my girlfriend and I if we wanted to try MDMA. I was unsure at first and hesitated but my friend went ahead and tried it so I took some as well, feeling somewhat pressured. When we got to the club we went straight to the patio and started smoking cigarettes. The drugs started to hit me and I started throwing up.
I wasn’t able to fully control myself in this situation – the vomiting, the crying and the confusion… I could hear my friend asking me if I was okay but in this moment I was unable to answer her. I could also hear him in a menacing tone asking everyone, “do you see her and do you see how it’s making her react?” He enjoyed seeing how drugs would affect people for the first time. He was aroused. I somehow ended up leaving the club with him that night. I’m not entirely sure how this happened but it ended up being the first time we had sex.
After having sex we started spending more time together. I learned his dad lived thousands of miles away from him and after starting a new family for himself he stopped caring about his first son. His mom was heavily into crack/cocaine for years before, during, and after his birth and neglected him too so he ended up living with his grandmother after his mom gave birth to him. For roughly two years we were on and off with each other but during this time there was never an official title. Only we knew what was going on.
Any time I tried to move on with another person he would get upset with me and would try to initiate fights with the guy I was speaking to. I didn’t understand this because he would never fail to remind me that I wasn’t his girlfriend. I thought him being jealous of other men was another way of displaying his feelings for me, even if it was indirect so I continued sleeping with him.
Most of the time when I was with him I was really high and out of my right mind: a few months later after continuing to have unprotected sex my period was late. I called my girlfriend who used to hang out with us in the beginning of my relationship with him and she said her period was late too. We waited a few days and then we went to a clinic together to take pregnancy tests – both tests were positive. When I called him to tell him he hung up. I called a second time and he started yelling at me. He didn’t exactly say what he wanted me to do with the baby at this point but he did say I was a slut and an idiot… this now became something that was entirely my fault.
My girlfriend and I didn’t cry at first mostly because we were both in shock. The next step was for me to figure out what to do. I was 17 at the time and I didn’t want to tell my parents. I also knew the amount of drugs I had been doing at the time would affect how my child developed. The biggest factor was my age – I knew wouldn’t be able to provide for the child on my own so I couldn’t keep the baby. The same day I found out I was pregnant was the same day I set up a day to terminate.
I felt extremely alone during this time, one of the reasons being that my girlfriend and I stopped speaking. It might’ve been the fact that we were both pregnant at the same time and had a hard time dealing with it. We were both really stressed, confused, hurting, emotional… we drifted during a time it was necessary for us to support each other. I also felt sad about my choice to have an abortion. Although it was my decision, I knew it was my irresponsibility that caused me to now have to terminate my first pregnancy. I blamed myself because I took drugs and I had unprotected sex. He was also was not a part of the abortion process and this made me feel even more alone.
We continued to see each other after the abortion but he started to say things like he didn’t want to have sex with me because a baby died in me. I began sleeping with other people, even some of his friends because I was angry with him. My pain was enough for me to justify this. When we would argue, I would throw it in his face that I slept with someone he knew. I knew the situation was unhealthy but I chose to handle it this way and continue taking drugs to cope with my loss and the entire situation. I was also hurting over my girlfriend and I not speaking. I felt isolated from everyone. I detached from my friends because they were not able to understand how I felt and I was attached to him because it involved the both of us. When it rains, it pours – situations that arise can make you feel your weakest if your support system isn’t stronger than what you’re being faced with.
The verbal abuse worsened and the physical abuse started. One night I was at his house and we were watching a movie. He suggested going out but I said this would be a bad idea because he was on house arrest. I advised we stay in and he responded by saying I was a fucking bitch and controlling. He grabbed his water bottle and poured water all over me. I decided this would be a good time for me to leave his house but he didn’t.
As I tried to leave he grabbed me. I tried to fight him off but he wouldn’t let go even though I kept saying I didn’t want to be there anymore. I started punching him because I wanted to get away. When he punched me in my nose we both heard it crack and he said, “Yeah did you hear that? I broke your nose.” I still tried to break his hold but he continued to squeeze me to the point where I blacked out temporarily. I fell and he dragged me back into the house. At some point I started to regain consciousness and I could hear he was rummaging through drawers in the kitchen; I thought his next move would be him stabbing me.
He came back to where I was and started hitting my face again. I can’t remember how I did but I got outside and started to run down the street. I knocked on his neighbour’s door and they allowed me to come in and use their phone. I called the same friend I had stopped talking to months before and she came to pick me up. The first thing she said was that I needed to go to the police to file a report and I agreed. The cops took my statement and when they pulled his record and saw the trouble he had been in before they went to get him without hesitation. I told my parents what happened when I got home and this was the first they had learned anything about what I had been going through. Charges were pressed and he went to jail for five months.
I fell into a depression. I didn’t want to go anywhere and mostly because I was scared to go outside. The entire situation starting from finding out I was pregnant and hearing his reaction right down to him putting his hands on me multiple times left me traumatized. Once, he tried to contact me from jail and when I heard his voice I hung up. I continued to use drugs as a way to cope.
Fast-forward five months: one night I went to the club and he was there. I noticed my friends kept whispering about something but wouldn’t let me in on the conversation and it hit me; he was here too. I left them to go to the washroom and as I was walking there I felt someone grab my shoulder and whisper in my ear, “I love you, I’m sorry.” He found me. It didn’t take long before I found myself kissing him until one of my girlfriends came over and pulled me off. They were furious that I would entertain him after all he had done to me but still, in a moment of weakness I tried to seek comfort in him, the one person I shouldn’t. My friends and I left the club and went back to one of my girlfriends’ house. The entire time after I left the club we were texting each other. He later stopped by my friend’s house in a cab to pick me up and despite my girlfriends telling me to not go and that they would be upset with me if I left, I did. I was happy to hear from again but I knew I shouldn’t have been. Why would I be happy to hear from someone that did the things he did? It took me a bit of time before I understood the cycle of abuse.
He said all I needed to hear: he was sorry, he would never do it again, he’s changed, and he’s learned his lesson after being in jail. So I forgave him and we were now officially in a relationship – I had the title I wanted him to give me for two years now and I felt this time would be completely different.
Although my romantic relationship seemed to be flourishing, my relationship with the women in my life went down the drain. Every single one of my girls turned on me because they didn’t support my decision to be in a relationship with him. Instead of trying to understand that I cared for him or remain in my life as a support system in case something went wrong they started calling me names. They would see me out and call me a dirty whore, they would comment on my pictures on social media saying horrible things about me and overall they made me feel even more depressed. This went on for the 7 months I stayed in a relationship with him. The first two months our relationship it felt like he had made changes within himself but after a short time I started to see signs of aggressiveness again. He never hit me again but the verbal abuse continued. He would grab me if we got into an argument and even the smallest arguments were magnified, as he couldn’t control his temper. He would go from being extremely happy with me to being extremely sad and angry within seconds. One minute our conversations were laced with words of love and the next minute he shared he thought I was a whore and worthless. I knew there was something more to him I’d never be able to control but during the time we were in a relationship I tried my best to. His mother knew I tried to leave a few times and every time I attempted to do this she would manage to persuade me to stay a bit longer by saying he needed someone like me because she wasn’t there for him when he was growing up. I was being manipulated all around.
One day we were out having lunch and I saw a girl I had asked him to stop speaking to before sent him a text message. He was being shady again. I got up to leave the restaurant but he wouldn’t let me leave. Leaving him became a problem and at times I found myself scared to go because he would either make me watch as he hurt himself or tell me he would commit suicide if I chose to leave.
We ended up in the street outside of the restaurant arguing. He started following me every time I tried to walk away and as he followed he taunted me. He would keep saying that I couldn’t call my family because I wasn’t allowed to be around him and he’d remind me I didn’t have any friends that would help me get out of the situation this time. Reminding me I was alone was his speciality. I was screaming and crying in the street and despite how many times I asked someone to help, they continued to walk right past me. I tried numerous times to get into a cab but he would open the cab door before I could get to it and tell the driver to leave. I made my way to the subway and went straight home. I told myself to take as much space as I needed and I refused to contact him.
After the incident in front of the restaurant he called me a few nights later. He apologized to me and I let it slide again. Before we ended the conversation he told me he was going to bed and that we would speak in the morning. I woke up to three voicemails from him. He lied again. He went to a club and pocket dialed me and this was the last straw for me. I grew weary and I was exhausted. I tried over and over again to help this person, to be there for him, and to show him the love he never received at home. He didn’t respect me after all I had done and after the voicemails I had confirmation that he would not change and I’d always be with someone who didn’t respect me, my body, my feelings, or who felt I deserved the truth regardless of what the situation was.
There comes a time when you have to put yourself first as cliché as that sounds. My eyes didn’t open after the first time he hurt me. It’s always easier to say what you could have done differently but what I learned after I left the situation is that when you’re in an unhealthy relationship with someone who doesn’t recognize they have trauma of their own, there is a cycle that you end up in unwillingly. It is in my nature to care and love so when in a relationship with someone that was my first priority. In his case, I wanted to show him love and care for him in ways he told me he never experienced because of his family situation.
It always starts the same way: the honeymoon phase filled with promises to change, apologies after something happens, even gifts depending on what they did. Then the tension builds: they start to criticize you, the swearing starts and if they’re not able to coerce you to do what they want, they try again with anger. Lastly explosion: attacks and pain both emotional and physical. This cycle became me. Month after month and time and time and time again I experienced each one of these phases until one day I broke free – twenty four months was enough.
Trigger Warning: 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.
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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: Abortion.
About three days before I took the test, I knew I was pregnant. The new changes in my body for the past week or so had clued me in, not to mention that my period was five days late at this point. I woke up on a Tuesday and I just knew in my heart that I was pregnant though I had never been in this situation before. I guess a woman’s intuition is a real thing.
The next 3-4 days were spent frantically googling pregnancy symptoms and other things that could be the cause of my new-found exhaustion, mood swings and all-day nausea. I’m surprised that no one close to me was clued in, I mean I took myself to bed at 8pm every night and I was extremely moody and sensitive. Though I knew it, I willed it to be not true because I did not want to be in this position. I decided that I would go to Walmart on that Friday and buy a pregnancy test to confirm. Up until this point, I had not shared any of this experience with anyone, not even the “father.”
Around came Friday and I found myself in the condoms/pregnancy test aisle in a busy Walmart. Standing in that aisle, all I felt was shame and embarrassment for my predicament. I even began to tear up as I stood there trying to decide which pregnancy test to buy. This sounds irrational but I honestly felt like I could sense people staring at me more than normal as they walked by. I approached the checkout line and tried to hide the pregnancy test as much as I could because the shame I felt was too real. I’m not sure if the cashier noticed what I was purchasing but when she looked at me all I saw was kindness in her eyes and in her demeanor which caught me off guard. As I left I immediately felt emotional and started to tear up.
At that point I knew I couldn’t continue to do this alone. I texted one of my best friends and told her I thought I might be pregnant and how much I was freaking out. She called me and I began to cry. Like an amazing friend she started to go through all the other logical explanations for my symptoms. Though I appreciated her efforts, like I said, I already knew I was pregnant. We decided that I would wait till after she finished work to do the test.
My family is of a South Asian background and there was no way I could have confided this without getting kicked out or disowned. As such, I didn’t want to chance it by taking the test at home. My friend drove us to a Starbucks about 15-20 min away and I ended up doing my test in that bathroom. I peed in a cup to do the test and as we waited for the results I went to dispose of the contents of the cup. As I was doing so my friend called out “Is it supposed to be two lines if you’re pregnant?” I responded with a ‘yes’. I’ll never forget when she said back to me “Babe, you’re pregnant.”. My friend, bless her heart, wrapped me up in a hug and was more emotional than I was. I think because I had already accepted the fact I was pregnant, even before I took the test, it contributed to my lack of emotion. Instead, I nervously laughed (my go to in uncomfortable situations), and we both kept repeating how shocked we both were at the fact that I was pregnant.
Till this point I had not shared any of this experience with the father. I tend to be very independent, especially when it comes to emotional situations. I shy away because I feel like I’m burdening others with my issues. By virtue of his career, he was often busy and I didn’t want to add to that. I shared this concern with my friend and she gave me her view on this. It helped me realize that it wouldn’t be fair to him to not allow him to have any part. Later that same night I found myself meeting up with the father to tell him I was pregnant. When put in uncomfortable situations I often resort to inappropriate jokes or just plain laughing at things that aren’t remotely funny. So there I was, sitting in a car with him and I found myself laughing while telling him I was pregnant.
Before he could say much or get out of the shocked state he was probably in, I began to ramble and I told him I knew I couldn’t keep the child. From the moment that I knew I was pregnant, before I even took the test, I knew the reality of my situation. I was 23 years old and I had just finished up with school, yet to start my career. I knew I wasn’t in the ideal position to be starting a family, let alone doing that with someone I had only known for a couple months. He expressed that he felt the same about my decision and wanted to be there for me when I went to the appointment. For reasons beyond me, I found myself trying to give him an out and told him that it wasn’t necessary because my best friend was surely accompanying me. He ignored that and said he wanted to be there and I guess that caught me off guard. I tend to expect the worst in any situation I go into and I expected him to not care or want to be there at all but this was different.
From this point up until and even after the procedure, there is no way I would have been able to go through this without my best friend. When I say this girl went above and beyond, its not a joke or exaggeration: from being there for the pregnancy test, driving me to see the father, booking the appointment and taking me to the abortion appointment, showing up at my house with iron pills and multivitamins, and even taking me on a mini road trip to keep my mind off the stress. She was my rock through this whole ordeal and I don’t even have words to express or show my gratitude to her for keeping me sane. The timeframe from when I took the pregnancy test to when I had the abortion was only about 6 days but the emotional rollercoaster I went through was difficult.
Though I was sure of my decision from the very beginning, it does not mean this was a smooth or joyous process for me. Before I found myself pregnant, I honestly thought motherhood wasn’t for me and I was sure of that. However, after becoming pregnant, I felt something change in myself and I realized that I could have the capacity and nature to be a mother if I wanted to. It was hard for me to come to this realization because I didn’t want this to be my first experience with pregnancy/motherhood, etc. It took me a couple days to be okay with this experience and then I took my time to ‘say goodbye’. I needed to just say thank you to my unborn child/fetus/whatever you want to call it, for it’s presence in my life and the realizations it brought along. I also needed time to acknowledge that it just wasn’t the right time or place for me for this to happen.
This takes me to the day of the abortion, the Thursday after. My best friend picked me up, took me to the appointment and the father met us there. The abortion experience itself wasn’t as traumatizing or painful as I expected it to be which could be attributed to the painkillers and Ativan I was given. Though I did find myself emotionally drained as I came out of the procedure to meet my friend and the father. Once it was over and I had the chance to sleep, I found myself feeling relieved more than anything else. At first, this made me feel guilty.
I felt like I shouldn’t be allowed to feel this way after what had just happened. I expected to be in some sort of emotional turmoil or thought that’s what the normal experience was, as per narratives I read online. The more stories I read through, the more I realized that rarely will two women will have identical abortion stories. There are so many diverse factors that influence our experiences, whether that be with abortion or anything else in life. If you have an abortion and you feel relieved afterwards, own your experience. Or if you have an abortion and you feel the opposite or struggle with it afterwards, that’s your experience to own as well. No one, but you, can tell you what the right way is to feel after an abortion. That’s your narrative and your experience to make sense of. It took me a while to realize this and to feel okay with the relief I felt.
At this point, it has been a couple months since the abortion and I don’t feel any differently. The decision I made was the right one for me. I can’t even imagine being months into a pregnancy right now. Though I’m relieved and at peace with what has happened, I certainly don’t think I’d want to go through that again and I’m hoping my IUD will save me from that situation.
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.