It all started when I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years. I was madly in love with him, we were going to get married. But it was a bad relationship, a really bad one. I was constantly pulling him out of trouble, constantly trying to prove to my friends and family he was everything I thought he was. It became exhausting; he had destroyed my trust in any way imaginable. But I still loved him. After he cheated on me, I put my brain in charge instead of my heart. We broke up. His last comment was, “But I still love you” to which I replied, “Not enough.”
It took a while to even think about moving on from him. But when I finally started to, I began having what I thought were nightmares. The nightmares were always a little different, but very similar. And part of some of them involved my brother, who was 3 years younger than me, standing by the side of my bed. He would touch my breasts, feel around under my underwear. Sometimes they even involved him taking my hand and touching his penis.
The first time this happened I could have swore was real but my brain couldn't make sense of it. I remember looking at my brother the next day. I remember thinking, how could I ever even think he would do something like that? He’s my sweet baby brother. That same day I asked him if he had been in my room the previous night, he answered no. I believed him.
A few weeks later, I had another nightmare. During the nightmare I woke up, and I pretended to be asleep. He remained in the room with me. He took my hand and made me touch it. As soon as I thought he was gone, I ran into my mother’s room barely able to spit out what had happened. Part of me was convinced it was real; part of me wasn’t sure what to believe. I remember puking up water, then dry heaving. Then I remember having my very first panic attack, I felt like I was going to suffocate. My mother calmed me down, I explained to her how real it felt. She believed me and went to check on my brother. When she came back she told me he was sound asleep, there was no way he could have just been in my room. My mom and I talked, and concluded that I was having hallucinations that were perfectly rational in moving on from my abusive boyfriend.
Something still didn’t seem right. Why did the nightmares start all of a sudden? I began to wonder if this was what it was like for people who become psychotic. Was I crossing the line from reality to crazy? I did not want to be someone who was too weak to handle life. If I crossed into imaginary land, would I ever be able to find my way back? If I became crazy, did my ex win? Surely I was stronger and better than that. My parents and I talked the next day. The plan was to get through the next few weeks until graduation. If the hallucinations continued, we would see about putting me in an institution. We all agreed that they would have the best resources for me to get help. I made one of my best friends make a promise to me. I made her promise that if I ever was in a mental institution and became crazy, that she would come visit me.
Later that week, my mother came to me. She had been having doubts about the “hallucinations” too. In a car ride she had gotten my brother to confess. He came to me later that night, to say he was sorry. I told him to get out of my room. How dare he think that this was something that could be forgiven with a simple “sorry?"
My ex- found out what had happened. He didn’t call, he didn’t text, he didn’t offer any kind of support.
At first I couldn’t even look at my brother, but things eventually got better. But even after what he had done, I still loved him. I wanted him to get help. As a family, we slowly began recovering. It is fall now, and that was last summer.
For part of my counseling, I did tell a couple of my friends. Most of them just sat quiet and nodded. That being said, there are some of my friends who I will never tell.
As for my abusive ex? I have since raised my standards, by a landslide! If I ever do meet someone who is worthy of me, I probably will tell him about my brother when the timing is right. Part of me is a little scared about getting to the intimate part of a relationship again. Will I be able to have a normal sexual relationship with anyone again? To be honest, I’m not sure. Some things may never be the same. But, if these past few months have taught me anything, it’s that you have to have faith. Three months ago I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to look at my brother again. I’m very proud about how far I’ve come.
I remember being about 5 and my mom taking me halfway up the stairs to the landing because I was throwing a sobbing fit and she was trying to keep me away from him because she knew it pissed him off. I remember him grabbing a stick of firewood and coming after us. He grabbed me and spanked me with it so hard it left a black and blue. I watched him chase my big brother out of the house with a stick raised in his hand, and my heart was in my throat because I was afraid he would seriously hurt him.
I remember him threatening my cat and then laughing about it. I remember once when he found baby squirrels in the attic, he threw them one by one from the window, while I hid in my room and cried because I was sure they were at least being injured if not killed, since they were still babies. I remember despising Mondays, because that was his day off and I had to spend it with him doing yard and outside work. To this day, the act of moving and stacking wood is enough to put me in a depression for the entire day. I hated everything about it – the dirt, the splinters, and most of all him, constantly berating me because I wasn’t doing it well enough.
I remember when he would get mad at me, he would push me along in front of him to force me to go where he wanted me to. I remember a couple times when he pushed me towards the extremely steep stairs in my house, and I was terrified that I was going to fall because I wouldn’t be able to grab the railing. I remember reoccurring nightmares about him chasing me, and trying to run and not being able to get away, but waking up just as he reached for me.
When I was 19, I got a job working at the same store he has worked at for years. I loved my job, my boss liked me, and I got along well with the majority of my coworkers. But since we drove together, we had the same shift, and we were there for several hours by ourselves before the next person came in. He was constantly telling me what I should be doing, criticizing my work, and threatening to tell my boss that I was slacking off on the job.
The next summer, my grampy died, and mom lived with grammy for a year while my dad built a room onto the house for her to move into. Without mom in the house, his attitude got worse and worse. He talked about her behind her back, and ordered me around as to how I was to keep the house, because apparently she wasn’t doing it right. I became angrier and angrier. One day he chased me with the broom, and tried to hit me with it, but fortunately the soft end was what caught my shoulder. When he realized he’d actually hit me, he stopped and put the broom away.
The day that changed everything, he had told me that when he came home from work that evening, my room had better be picked up and neat. I hate being told what to do. I hate having a timeline. I lay around all day and did absolutely nothing at all. Finally, about half an hour before he was supposed to arrive, I went up and was half-heartedly going through the junk on my floor, sorting what could be thrown away from important stuff. When he got home, he came up and knocked on my door and told me he wanted to see my room. I had wrapped a sash around a nail in the door frame and then around the door knob for a lock, because heaven forbid I have a real one. I told him that I was still cleaning and that I would let him know when I was done so he could inspect. He got angry and told me he wanted to see it right now. I continued to argue with him and tell him that I wasn’t done and he could look when I was. Finally he yanked the door open, tearing the sash in two and stormed in. He took one look around and said “Get downstairs right now.” I said “No, I’m going to stay and finish my room and then I’ll come downstairs.” We went back and forth like this for a minute, and I stood up so I wouldn’t be kneeling as we argued. Suddenly he had me in a headlock and was dragging me toward the door. As we got past the door frame, I was fighting his grasp, and I knocked over a cat bowl that was on top of a desk. It shattered, and he let me go. “Clean it up!” I grabbed the small broom and dustpan by the bathroom and did as he asked. When it was picked it, he lunged for me and I was back in the headlock being dragged toward the stairs. I fought with all my strength, refusing to walk, terrified of getting too close to the stairway. We ended up across the hall and in his room, with me on the floor and him kneeling over me. I had his shirt at the neck in one hand, and the other was pulling his arm down away from my neck as hard as I could. “LET GO!” he hissed, and I said nothing, but did not relinquish my grasp at all. Finally, after what seemed like forever, my sister came out of her room, and went into the bathroom. He immediately let me go and said “Come downstairs when you’re ready,” and stormed off.
My sister made some phone calls, and my dad was forced to see a “therapist” while we stayed with some friends from church. That was until everyone (the therapist included) discovered I am gay, and immediately decided that the best place for me would be right back at home with my dad all by myself, as my sister stayed behind. I started self-injuring during this time because I felt trapped and invalidated as a person. See I’m real, I’m alive, I bleed, just like you…
It’s taken years for me to get to the point where I feel mostly ok with my life. I still jump every time my significant other unexpectedly touches my neck. I still struggle with feeling worthless, not good enough, and invalidated. I get triggered. But I am a survivor. I’ve always been a survivor. I’ve learned that hope is the most important thing. And maybe someday I’ll be whole.
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This is my story, in all the raw & rough around the edges bits.
My name is Sara. I have left my abuser of a decade. That ten years with my ex showed me the need to have resilience, faith, & undying courage. Even before I met him, I was a rape survivor. Then I met him and my world unfolded. Him slamming doors, punching holes in walls; later learning he has become an addict and alcoholic who fails to seek refuge in Detox, that he would not leave me unless I left him.
I have felt threatened, have been threatened & forcefully abused. I have believed lies & blackmail. I have felt worthless & unloved. I spent a decade with a man who showed his “love” with seven evictions in a decade. He stole items from me and my neighbors, friends and co-workers. He is someone who displays stalking & harassing tactics. He controlled when I went to the bathroom. Controlled who I spoke to and also when. Family contact was limited, I was permitted at least to be at the hospital when my loving never-hurt-a-fly Father lost his life to cancer on March 20th 2006. He has thrown me up against hardwood door frames. He has hit, punched and kicked me. He has threatened my life and carried weapons. He spit all over me.
And most of all, my heart said “cannot take this anymore, I must let him go."
He would awaken me by having intercourse with me. He made fun of me because I am a rape survivor. Taunted me with leering glares and lied to me and about me. My abuser checked my e-mails, updated my FaceBook profile and controlled every aspect of my being. Those who never understood, I hope they will some day. His constant drama, excessive stealing and manipulation brought me to feel hopeless and responsible. Part of me still feels the gnawing guilt, but I know I am ready to break free.
Purity and innocence
Precious and golden,
Meant for greatness
By tainted passion was stolen
Through force and the lust
Of a man disgraced,
Misguided by wreckage
The little girl displaced
Soul wounded and torn,
Left to forage the wilderness
Marked by scorn
Bearing the scars of shame
Forever hating his name,
Destined for hate
Lonely destitute fate
Act of degradation
Took her innocence away,
He went to his grave
She lived on as a slave
To the pain he had brought
By what his parents taught
Initiated the deed
Protecting him, yet she bleeds
In pain, and lives on as
a dead woman.
Keisha Allen-Smith is a mother, educator and an advocate for victims of abuse. Her hobbies include poetry, traveling, and spending time with family. She is a testimony to women who try to survive as an adult while dealing with the issues of low self-esteem, and the difficult challenge of rising from victim to survivor despite the social conditioning of others around her. Keisha has survived and beat the odds. She has a BA in Psychology and a MA in Counseling.
This poem appears in Dance with Danger: A story of domestic abuse and survival, her memoir about surviving an abusive relationship with her high school boyfriend.