For a long time I thought I wore a Triple Crown of Abuse. Child sexual abuse, raped in my early 20s, alcohol-related domestic violence from my first husband. I know I'm not alone in this, far from it. Some people win lotteries, others represent a different type of statistic. Being a woman who was victimized by violence sadly isn't a rare thing, not yet.
I really didn't deal with the childhood sexual abuse until I was raped by a stranger in my own little Toyota truck in the parking lot of a bar when I was in college. A man just opened the door and got in. He raped me. I didn't feel much of anything except my neck and jaw under extreme pain from the way he pinned me down and held my mouth closed. My only thoughts were I can't breathe, he's going to break my neck, I'm going to die.
That led me to a rape crisis program. The damn holding back everything from my childhood broke open. I had a breakdown. I'm not exactly sure how I made it from the ages of 21 to 25. Somehow support groups and counselors got me through. I can't say that friends did, I really didn't have friends at that stage in my life. With my childhood it took me a long time to trust anyone and to feel safe to tell the truth, two things required of friendship. When there is so much damage it's hard to see yourself of much use to anyone, anyway.
But I rebuilt my life, somehow. I fell in love with my husband fast. In retrospect I was really inexperienced and flattered by his promises. His alcoholism was obvious, but I told myself once the fun of dating was behind us he'd settle down. I was going to help him. In my deep heart of hearts, I also knew he would never, ever leave me. His sickness made him feel so safe to me, so trustworthy.
It backfired. His rage against himself took shape as rage against me. I became the reason everything had been denied to him. The reason he wasn't a successful man. The reason he failed. He spit on me, yelled at me, tore me down, got in the way of every possible opportunity that came my way, isolated me, controlled every penny, and overall tried to keep me so tiny I would fit like a pinch inside of a can of tobacco in his front pocket.
I don't even remember how I managed to leave. I have a lifetime of foggy memory bits, and leaving him about seven years ago is one of them. It feels like an old, fading movie, with clicking sounds instead of a soundtrack. I didn't even know how bad it was until long after I left. One day I was sitting on my porch after cutting the yard in my new house and it hit me. I'm happy. I was filthy and the air smelled so green and it was a beautiful day...and nothing else. It's so simple, really, but I had not felt that simple feeling too many times in my life up to that point. It turned out all this time happiness wasn't a thing, happiness was just the absence of feeling broken. Now I judge everything else by that simple happy feeling and won't ever give it away.
I don't know if I'll ever get married or even fall in love again. I certainly am not looking for a relationship. I know I'll never have children. I don't need to win the lottery in money or love or anything material. I just want to feel like everything is behind me. I want to keep my friends and take care of them. I want to help others who have been hurt get safe and feel peace. I just want to live a good life and be happy.
With my ex, it was all about the envelope. Push a little bit, wait, push a little more, wait. When he found out that he'd gotten away with enough, he just did whatever he felt like, whenever.
It was all verbal and emotional abuse at first. He would insult how I look, the things I liked, even the food I bought and cooked for him.
Eventually, I stopped being myself and became the person he wanted me to be. I wore the clothes he wanted me to wear, I only read the books he told me to, and listened to the music he liked. I figured it would cut down on how much of the abuse he would dole out, but it didn't. He would degrade me in front of his friends. Even though they were all educated people they would just sit there and let him do it. I guess that stopped satisfying him because along came the physical abuse. He bloodied my nose, I have scars, there were bruises. I constantly wished I would lie down to go to sleep and just not wake up. I would take handfuls of pills on occasion just to see if they might work. He started tying me down during sex telling me I didn't deserve to enjoy it, that as soon as I shut up and just did what I was told, life would be so much better for me.
Finally he just went through with it and cheated on me. I had a total breakdown. He insisted he just used the other person for sex and it meant nothing and gave me presents to "make up for it" then complained to everyone how he was poor from "spoiling" me all of the time. Shortly after that he became heavily violent again, putting me in the emergency room.
When I got out, I went to the neighbors and told them what happened. I told them I needed out of that situation and needed help. They told my ex and the abuse came again only worse because I "embarrassed" him.
One day something inside just turned off and I didn't care anymore. A friend hid me for a week while I sorted out what to do. Thankfully, I didn't live with him, but there was a significant amount of my things at his place I needed to get and the copies of my keys that he had. While at work he called me and started screaming at me that I was stupid and useless, and he was going to dump me so he'd be free to sleep with random people and not be held back anymore. I told him fine and hung up on him. I ignored calls for several more days. I knew I needed isolation from him so he couldn't talk me back into it.
He finally came over and sat crying about how he didn't realize what he had lost and tried to give me photos he had taken of me. I just didn't care. When I got back into my place, I threw it all away along with all of the clothes he made me wear and everything he had ever bought for me. I guess he realized it just didn't matter because then he started following me. He would show up at parties and follow me from room to room sometimes joined in with one of his friends. I began playing music shows with a new set of friends, and he started trying to have me blocked from performing.
He would try to start arguments with me online telling me things like "didn't I kiss you 100 times for every time I hit you" or "you're lucky I let you off this easy, I could have made things really difficult for you." In the meantime he was crying to people we knew saying he'd hurt me and was sorry and was worried about me now. They would come to me telling me his pity stories like I should take him back. It made me sick. Most of these same people he would spout hateful comments about when their backs were turned. When that didn't work, he started vilifying me to the community we participated in. It came to the point where some of the members said I deserved to be hit. I walked away from them and started focusing more on my new set of friends.
I'd finally had enough. I took everything I had saved from the chat printouts, emails, my medical records, and recordings I made on my phone and took it to the county attorney. It was humiliating going over everything with them, but I knew it was all I had going for me. They took everything, but told me they couldn't do anything until he made a move. I was given a card to keep in case he ever showed up around me. They told me everything was filed and ready for if it ever happened so there would be no delay in going after him.
It really did help. I spread around that I had papers filed and I guess it got back to him because if he ever saw me he would run away.
Things have been amazing since. My life turned around immediately after he was gone. I left the state to make sure I'd never come in contact with him again and move on with my life. Unfortunately, the only thing that has really held that back is some friends of mine still associating with him. I don't understand why they would be friends with someone who did so much to me, and believe me, they know all the details. It has been dragging up a lot of old upset, but I'm starting with a new counselor and I know things are going to improve.
"You get that you were raped, right?"
"Yeah...I mean, yeah, I know."
"Let me rephrase that. You were raped. There is no question."
"Right, I know. But. We were both virgins. And I don't know if I gave him some signals..."
"Stop. This was your first date. You were 15 and you didn't know the boy well. You were supposed to have a group of people with you, right?"
"Yes. He said that I should be dropped off at his house because his friends were coming over and we were all going to the movies."
"But when you got there, it was just the two of you?"
"Right. I asked where his friends were, and he said they were coming over later. And that we could just hang out at his house until they got there. That's when I started to feel uncomfortable. What I recognize, now, as my intuition. If I had made a friend stay with me...or make sure there..."
"No. You didn't get raped because *you* didn't have a friend stay with you. Do you understand that?"
"Yeah...I mean, I guess..."
"So, you were by yourself with him."
"In his room. With the lights off. Why didn't I tell him we needed to stay in the living room with the lights on?"
"Because you were unsure of yourself and didn't want to seem dumb for feeling like everything wasn't right?"
"I suppose so. He told me he wanted to take my shirt off, but I told him I didn't want that."
"That sounds pretty straight forward to me."
"Right...but maybe I wasn't forceful enough when I said it? And then I didn't say no the second he started unbuttoning my shirt."
"You said no. You told him no from the moment he mentioned something you didn't want to do."
"I did. And when he started pulling down my pants, I told him no then too. But the way I said it...maybe I didn't say it forcefully enough?"
"Elizabeth, you said no. He should have stopped. He should have been taught to stop."
"He didn't even know how to put the condom on. Neither did I. I told him I didn't want to touch him. I can still remember being completely shocked that he had pubic hair. That makes me want to cry now...that I was so naive, so inexperienced that I didn't even know that men had pubic hair."
"And he had to push so hard and he was so inept...I wasn't in any way ready for the pain. I had never talked with anyone about what sex was like. I had no idea how much it would hurt. I cried. And I tried to push away. With every thrust of his hips, I tried to push down on the floor to get away from him. It was like the most awkward dance ever. Then the doorbell rang and his friends walked in the house."
"So his friends came in the house? Did they come in the room?"
"Chris was getting off of me, telling me to get dressed, when his friend came in the room. I was so embarrassed. But I was relieved it was over. While I was getting dressed, I could hear his friends laughing in the kitchen with him."
"What were they laughing about?"
"Me. Well, that they had walked in on Chris and I having sex. There was definitely some high-fiving with the boys."
"Then I called my friend to come and get me. I told Chris and his friends that I had to get home, I didn't feel well. I don't remember what we did while we waited...I can't remember that...but I had to wait about 20 minutes for my friends to get there. When I got in the car, I leaned over and told my friend, Sara, that I thought I had just had sex. I didn't even know."
"Was she surprised?"
"Yes. She wanted details, but I didn't tell her how it really happened. Just that we had had sex and been interrupted."
"Did she seem suspicious?"
"No. She believed me, but she wanted to know what it was like. All the usual stuff that girlfriends want to know. I told her I didn't want to talk about it then, that we would talk later. They dropped me off at home and I ran to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet just in time for what seemed like buckets of blood to come gushing out. I was so freaked out. And then I heard my phone start to ring. And I was really scared that it would wake my Grandmother, so I ran to answer. It was Sara, who couldn't wait to hear more. I told her I would talk with her at school the next day, and I finished cleaning up."
"Did you tell your Grandmother what happened?"
"Definitely not. I was supposed to have been studying, which is why I had been allowed out on a school night at all. I thought that if she found out I'd lied, I'd be in big trouble. Now I know that she would have killed Chris...and then I would have gotten in some trouble for lying."
"How was the next day?"
"I was in a lot of pain, and bleeding heavily. I told all my friends that Chris had said he couldn't wait to have a real date, and how nice he thought I was. My older friends kept asking me if anything was wrong and I said no. After school, Chris called. We didn't go to the same school, so I didn't seem him that day."
"Was that good?"
"Yes! I was so glad I didn't have to see him. When he called, the first thing he said was, 'I have to break up with you. My friends think you're fat.'"
"Yeah. He said his friends thought I was fat...so it would be easier to break up with me now before things got too far."
"Yeah. Because, at 5'8" and 160 pounds of athletic body, I already thought I was too fat...that really helped."
"He was an asshole, you know that, right?"
"I didn't think therapists were supposed to talk like that?"
"We aren't. But sometimes, like now, a therapist is a human and gets pissed."
"I was so glad he didn't go to my school, but I found out later that mutual friends of ours knew we had had sex."
"So, he was telling people?"
"Yeah. Thankfully, it wasn't that big a deal, and I had a long-term boyfriend after that, so nobody thought I was a slut or anything."
"But, you see now that Chris raped you. You said no. You meant no, and you said no. He should have stopped."
"I know. I do. I know. Also? I found Chris on Facebook last year. He's huge. I mean, really fat."
Elizabeth is a writer, mother, wife and friend. She's learning to be as kind to herself as she is to others. It is, apparently, a long process.
My life changed forever 5 years ago. I was 16, he was 19. All I cared about were good grades, friends, and partying. I went to his apartment with two girlfriends. We met him a week ago. I thought he was cute and I loved that he was tall. We started drinking right when we got there. He and I talked and I thought he was amazing—he even kissed me.
I don’t know how much I had to drink, but at 105 lbs., I was wasted and passed out on the couch. I woke up to him picking me up. Startled and dizzy, I said I wanted to leave, he said I wasn’t going anywhere. He accidentally dropped me and I tried to get to the door, but I fell. He grabbed my hair, dragging me across the floor toward him. I fought, but he managed to carry me to his bed. I was terrified. My “friends” had already left.
He was on top of me. I took a swing at his face, but he grabbed my arm and I screamed as he twisted it behind my back. He said if I ever tried that again, he would break my arm. I believed him.
I believed every threatening, disgusting, soul crushing thing he said to me. He said I was worthless and just something to be used. He told me no man would ever want a fat, ugly slut like me. He said he would ruin me and I would forever be “damaged goods.”
When I wouldn’t quit fighting, he stopped and turned me so that my head was on the nightstand, then repeatedly slammed the back of my head into it. I was still awake after four hits—his look of disappointment told me that wasn’t his plan. He started raping me again.
Feeling powerless, I laid there and sobbed. He told me to shut up, but I wouldn’t. Then, his hand was around my throat, I couldn’t breathe. I struggled for air, unsuccessfully trying to peel his fingers off my neck. I felt myself slipping away and I thought I was dying.
I woke up gasping for air. I wondered what he did while I was passed out. Then, I tasted blood in my mouth and decided that I never wanted to know. He reached for something on the nightstand—a knife. He said if I moved or cried “one more fucking time,” he’d kill me. I whimpered. He pressed the knife against my ribs, digging it into my skin; I felt blood trickle down my side. He said, “That’s your last warning.” I had a choice: fight, scream, and die OR do nothing, be quiet, and live. I had to lay there in motionless silence while he beat me and violated me. I thought about how freeing death would be, how it would make him and the pain disappear. But no, I had to live, whatever it took. I can’t describe how consuming and excruciating the pain was; I closed my eyes and told myself the pain meant nothing—if it did, I’d already be dead. Now, in my weakest moments I remind myself of the strength it took to survive, of the strength it took to choose experiencing a temporary hell in order to live. I can honestly say that choosing to live was literally the most painful decision I have ever made; it was also the best decision.
When he was done, he told me we would never forget each other and that he would haunt me for the rest of my life. Then, he fell asleep right next to me, like nothing happened.
I waited a while, then finally got up. My whole body ached; I felt so weak and sick. I went to grab my clothes and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror; I was ghost white and covered in blood—it was in my hair, running down my chin from a busted lip, and all over my legs; there were smears of blood on the rest of my body and I wanted to throw up when I realized they were his hand prints.
I got dressed, opened the front door, and bolted. The door slammed behind me. As I made it down the first of three flights of stairs, I thought I heard his door slam again. I kept running, certain he was right behind me. I made it down the stairs and fell. My heart sank. I wasn’t getting away, he could get me now. But, I got up, ran to my car, and locked the doors. I looked around, but he wasn’t there. I swear he was right behind me—sometimes, I still feel like he is.
I was able to hide or explain away my injuries and they had almost healed when I decided to go to the police. I had to live it all over again during every interview. The detective’s questioning was unnecessarily harsh and I felt like no one believed me. (I’m still afraid that people, who hear my story, don’t believe me). My rapist got 6 months of probation for providing alcohol to me, a minor.
Sleeping is difficult. I’m afraid he's waiting for me in the dark. I’m afraid he's just around the corner or hiding behind the next car in the parking lot. I HATE it when people try to scare me; their harmless prank makes me think I’m about to be killed. I can’t stand yelling or door slamming. Sometimes I just can't help saying negative things to myself about my appearance and I don’t always think I’m pretty. The flashbacks are horrifying—I can see, smell, and feel everything; they’re physically painful and exhausting.
Fear is still there, but it doesn’t control me anymore. I face my fears every day, even just by walking out the door (I’m terrified he’s on the other side). I resist the urge to constantly look over my shoulder when I’m on the stairs. I tell myself that the things he said aren’t true, that I will find someone who can love and accept me for who I am and that I’m not worthless.
I have dreams, I know what I want for my life, and I won’t accept anything less. I realized that I could choose to be happy and that I deserve to be happy. In spite of everything, I can say, without a doubt, that I have an amazing life and I am proud to be alive.
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