This is a story submitted to The Bandwagon by a brave young woman. She’s choosing to stay anonymous, and we will respect that choice. Just as we will respect her ability to speak out. The Bandwagon is always open to guest posts, and encourages survivors of rape, sexual and domestic abuse, to submit their stories in an attempt to raise awareness, and show others that we are not alone.
This post contains descriptions of sexual abuse, violence, and abortion. Please proceed with caution.
It’s largely assumed and taken as a given that, when anyone goes through any form of trauma, you’re ‘allowed’ a few months, maybe a year, of being a wreck. Emotionally, psychologically, even physically. You get a year’s free pass before the empathy and even the sympathy wears off, and you need to start to ‘help yourself’ or just get over it.
It’s not that people don’t care, it’s more that they either don’t fully understand the form of pain you’re in, or that they have their own lives and their own traumas that make it hard to be a constant support system. And it’s okay, because everyone has struggles and everyone goes through some form of inexplicably painful event at some point in their lives. So we don’t talk about it, and we try to carry on.
It’s because of my long and continuing journey to being me again that I feel the need to share my story and experience. So please bear with me, because this is hard.
I was 14 when I met him. I lost my virginity while partially unconscious in his bed at his 15th birthday party. At the time, I was so anxious to get my first time out of the way that I didn’t even think about what had really happened until a long time after. My friends were all really jealous that I had done it before them, and I was such a particularly insecure girl that I found a form of misguided pride in what I had “achieved”. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I looked back on that night and realised what had happened to me, and the events that took place for almost 4 years afterwards, that I have been able to truly come to terms with it.
After I lost my virginity to him, we didn’t really talk or see each other until one night, several months later, when he asked if I wanted to meet up. I was 15, and had engaged in sexual intercourse with someone else since losing my virginity, and would now be what is considered ‘sexually active’. We met up that night and he was charming and sweet and kind and funny, and I genuinely felt like he was perfect.
It’s worth mentioning that from the age of about 9 or 10, I was a deeply depressed and emotionally unstable person. I referred to myself as broken even as a child, and can remember crying myself to sleep every night for what felt like years. I was lonely and depressed and desperately trying to fill this emptiness that I had inside me. And then I met him, and I felt like everything would be okay.
We were in love. Everything was great. We were children, yes, but when you’re 15 you don’t see yourself as a child. We were convinced that we were going to be together forever. And then it started to change.
It was small things at first. When we went to a party I wasn’t allowed to drink any alcohol as I “couldn’t handle it”, and any time I was seen with any form of alcoholic drink, it descended into a very heated argument about my morals and my commitment to him. The fact that I wasn’t doing very well in school meant that I was a failure. I was told I didn’t try hard enough with my appearance. I was told that my family didn’t treat me well enough, so I distanced myself from them. I was told that he didn’t like my friends, so I distanced myself from them too, and instead only socialised with his friends. If we ever went on a date or a day out, I wasn’t trusted to choose the activity because I always got it wrong. He would tell me that he was taking me out, and then, after dictating what we did, would regularly make me pay. Often, he would leave midway through because I had done something to offend him or that he didn’t see as acceptable, and I would have to pay and then find a way home.
These small changes, when combined into one paragraph, make it painfully obvious that I was in an unhealthy and controlling relationship. When these things happen slowly over a period of time, at the same time, your self worth and self belief is also being destroyed by someone you’re in love with. You’re blinded. The worst part is that this was just the beginning. This is just a list of a few of the things he did that I can remember happening before it got a lot scarier and darker and even more lonely.
While the controlling continued, every single day was an attack on my personality and looks. I was nothing. I would be punished for behaving badly by being made to sleep on the floor, like a dog. I felt so worthless.
He cheated on me. I was told by a mutual friend and he denied it. I knew he was lying, but I was too scared to be without him, so I pretended I believed him. Later on in our relationship, he admitted it, gloated and told me it was because she was more attractive, better in bed and that I wasn’t having sex with him enough. He openly admitted that they regularly met up. It was my fault. And I genuinely felt like it was my fault. I wasn’t good enough for him. So I tried as hard as I could to be perfect, so he would stay with me.
We had been together for a year when he started to rape me. I think this is the part that I still struggle so much with. For most of my life, I believed that rape was when someone violently attacked a woman – usually down an alleyway. That is how it is depicted in school and on TV. Now, as an adult, and especially as a feminist, I feel almost ashamed that I didn’t know I was being raped, or try to stop it. I was old enough to fully comprehend rape and I was more than capable of knowing that it’s wrong to make someone have sex if they don’t want to, but I was also convinced that he was the only thing I had, and the only thing that could make me happy. I was under the illusion that I was lucky to have someone like that love me. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t know what I wanted or didn’t want, unless he told me first. So he told me I had to have sex with him. So I did.
Once this had started, so did the beatings. For the small things that would have originally ended with a heated argument and me apologising profusely for whatever I had done wrong, they now ended with a slap round the face or being physically held down and screamed at. On a few occasions I was punched in the face. The worst physical violence I endured was when he pushed me so hard that I fell over and split my head open on the corner of a radiator. The last thing I remember is seeing the blood, and then looking up to see him laughing. I woke up in hospital and apparently, according to the nurse, I had hurt my head by dancing on the bed and then falling off. I went along with it because he was sorry.
I was only physically forced into having sex with him once. I still can’t quite find it in myself to talk about that part, and it took a very long time for me to even be able to say it out loud. But it happened, he did it. And I got pregnant.
This was not part of the plan. He was destined for university and a career. This was something he couldn’t control. Well, this was something I thought he couldn’t control. Being someone that hadn’t ever really felt loved or worthy of love, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of becoming a mother. I was 16. I told him that I was pregnant, and I’m not really sure what I expected, but it was probably not what happened next. I was told to either have an abortion or I would be pushed down the stairs and dealt with. These weren’t the words of a scared 17 year old boy who didn’t know what to do; these were the words of someone who knew exactly how to handle a situation that had gone past being controlled. To this day I still hate myself for what I did. I know I did nothing wrong, and I aborted a child (that was the product of rape) out of fear for its safety, as well as mine. But I still can’t help hating myself, especially because now I am faced with the prospect that I may never have children.
Shortly after having the termination, I got a blood infection in one of my ovaries. It filled with cysts and caused irreparable damage that has left me with only one working ovary**. I’m not infertile, but I’m half as likely to ever hold my baby in my arms. I’m half as likely to ever be a mother. And it hurts so much because it is all because of what I did.
The rape and the violence started up again about a month later. I would spend about 4 or 5 nights a week at his house because of the strained relationship I had with my family. Even though I had my own home that I could go to and feel safe, I didn’t. I felt trapped between a home in which I felt unloved and lonely, and a home where I would be beaten and forced to have sex.
It wasn’t constant abuse. We would have some really good times. It was such a yo-yo type of relationship that I eventually didn’t know which version of him I was going to get or at what point he would turn, or if he would turn at all. It was exhausting.
One day, he suffered a family tragedy. He was broken. This big masculine terrifying person was suddenly so small and vulnerable. He needed me. I was there for him and I wanted to help make it better. I was there for months; everything he needed or wanted, I was there. One day he turned to me and said ‘you’re all I have left now. You are never allowed to leave me’. I don’t know why it happened at that moment, but suddenly the penny dropped. I wasn’t with him through choice. I wasn’t with him because I loved him. I was with him because he demanded it. I was with him because I was his possession.
So I left him. I broke up with him and I didn’t look back. He was vulnerable and had suffered a great loss and maybe it was insensitive to do so at that moment, but it’s what I did.
He was fine. He quickly got into another relationship with the girl he was cheating on me with. For months they mocked me over how weak and insignificant I was to them. Then, a year later she texted me apologising for what she had said and done, and sent me pictures of the black eye he gave her.
As I previously mentioned, it wasn’t until I was an adult and I looked back on my experience that I realised I wasn’t just heartbroken, I was BROKEN. Every part of my heart and soul had been picked apart and violated, and it took me a long time to comprehend the damage. And I’m still healing, but it’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay.
Years have passed since this happened to me. I’m now engaged with a good job and a great network of friends. People assume that its been so long since what happened that I must be fine now. My life looks perfect, so I must be fine.
I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which is triggered by sex or having my arm or leg movement restricted. I can barely bring myself to make love to my fiancé, because when I do, I have to fight off flashbacks of being raped. I have an anxiety disorder where I constantly worry about everything and have a feeling of dread with me all the time. I have OCD. I have a panic disorder and suffer from panic attacks regularly. I sometimes become convinced I’m being chased or followed. These are the lifelong consequences I carry from being abused. I’m a strong woman. I refuse to be mistreated by anyone again in my life, but I’m still recovering.
I don’t like the label ‘survivor of domestic abuse’. I don’t think that just because I didn’t die, that I survived at all. Parts of me that were once great are now gone. The person that I was no longer exists. The person I could have been will never exist. They say that you wouldn’t be who you are today without the things that happen to you, good or bad. The saddest part of that is that I agree, I just know I’m not the person I was supposed to be anymore.
I can’t stress enough how easy it is to find yourself in an abusive relationship, especially as a young girl who may not see the beauty and individual brilliance in themselves. It took me a long time to realise that I was in an abusive relationship, and then make the scary decision to walk away and say no, this isn’t right. I refuse to be damaged forever, and so should you. It shouldn’t be shameful or embarrassing to tell your story. I don’t know statistics, I don’t have facts and figures, but I know that too many women have and still will die because of domestic abuse.
If we stand together, tell our stories, face our fears and stop this issue from being so taboo, maybe we could save some lives. Maybe we can save someone from lifelong mental illness. Maybe we can save someone from aborting a child out of fear for their own life. Maybe we can save someone from rape. Maybe we can save someone from hating themselves. Maybe we can help rebuild someone that lives each day feeling broken.
** The Bandwagon’s note: I feel obligated to add that this isn’t something that commonly occurs after a termination, but if you do experience any worrying symptoms, seek medical help immediately. For further information and support on abortion, visit the Marie Stopes website, or speak to your GP.
As part of my research for my current project, a novel called ‘Some Girls Do’ – which not only tackles teenage sexual abuse, but also depicts an experience of my own – I’m asking for survivors to submit their stories to The Bandwagon. All posts will be published only with consent, and always anonymously, unless otherwise directed. To submit, or just talk, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.