Lately, I’ve been feeling the urge to tell my story. The real story, not the one I fabricated to keep people off my back or to prevent myself from having to accept the reality of the situation.
I like helping other people. I like being there and providing support, but the more that I encourage others to speak their truth, I can feel mine bottling at the back of my throat, wanting to spill out. I haven’t known where to share it that is safe, and the obvious answer has been right under my nose, so here I am.
I guess I want to put a disclaimer that this might be a bit lengthy, and it might be a bit detailed which could be triggering for other survivors. If you can’t make it through my post because of that, I understand. I really just need an opportunity to let it all out in a way that I don’t have to censor or filter myself because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years.
I was 14 years old. A freshman in high school, coupled with low self-esteem, and freshly grieving a mother figure in my life. I had recently discovered alcohol and started hanging out with people who were older and cooler than me. I just wanted to be like them.
He was my first ‘real’ boyfriend – an upperclassman, a ‘skater’, he smoked weed and was rebellious and it was every bit of escape I wanted from my sheltered, confusing life. Looking back on it, we were never really compatible. I think I was looking for some sense of being wanted because I was complacent in just about everything in the relationship, never setting or sticking to boundaries. Seeking to fill the void of love and attention that I don’t feel as though I was receiving from my family. Did I even know what boundaries were? I was a child. 6 months before I moved to high school, I was still playing with Polly Pockets. How capable of making grown-up decisions could I have really been?
It was St. Patricks Day 2006. My sister, at the time an addict, made the less than responsible decision to supply me with tons of alcohol. Looking back on it, I don’t blame her. She was fighting for my approval in our relationship, fighting against the strain her addiction had caused. And there was I, fighting for the approval of the 16-18 year olds I was hanging out with. I arrived to the party alongside my older, cooler cousin, bottles in hand and feeling like the life of the party.
Despite being passive in the relationship, I had one boundary with the boyfriend, though. I didn’t want to have sex. I wanted to wait until marriage.
Maybe that was a belief that would have changed as I got older, as my brain developed more, but I certainly didn’t want it at 14.
What is the point of a boundary if no one accepts it anyway?
I was blackout drunk. I remember barely being able to move and being taken to a bed. I don’t remember how I got there, but I remember the party host, an older friend, checking in on me. He’d always been such a good friend. I had feelings for him, but I ignored them for my boyfriend because it was the more convenient option as I knew he returned them. I stayed in the relationship because it was safe and I felt wanted. At some point, my friend, who was likely the only REAL safety in that situation, stepped away, and my boyfriend entered the room and locked the door behind him.
I don’t remember much from that evening. I remember two things: Saying no, over and over again, and my friend pounding on the locked door of his house, trying to get my boyfriend to stop.
From here, I remember nothing else of the evening. At some point, my cousin had taken me back to my grandmothers where we both stayed, right down the street. I woke up with blood in my underwear, confused. 14 year old me asked my 16 year old cousin if that was normal. I had never had sex before. She told me it was, and that it would stop. But I felt a weight on my chest. I didn’t want this.
With my morals out the window, I spiralled. Coming from a quite religious household, I felt ruined. I viewed it with a black and white mentality: he was my boyfriend, so it couldn’t be rape. And since I was no longer a virgin, I would need to keep doing it if I wanted him to stay with me.
The occasional drinking turned to binging. With that came the period of hyper-sexuality, something new and unlocked in me that felt that was the only way I could keep anyone around. I stayed with him for many, many years in a toxic, mentally abusive environment – and at some point, as I grew a bit older, we had a difficult conversation about that life-altering night. I snapped and confronted him.
I looked him in the face and told him he raped me. Much to my surprise, he didn’t deny it. Instead, he cried and said, “I know.”
Well now what am I supposed to do? I’m 17 years old. I’ve spent the past three years of my life with this person, and he’s all I know. As a human being, I don’t really enjoy him or like him. We don’t get along very well. He makes fun of my interests, he cheats on me, he lets his friends bully me, he forces me to be sexual despite me not really wanting to. He doesn’t defend me, he doesn’t protect me, but he’s all I’ve ever known.
All it takes are a few of his fragile tears to shut me down again.
And I’m no longer a child, I’m convinced I’m a woman, unworthy of anything but this. So, I stay.
He decides to join the military. In doing so, he decides he wants to be single, so he breaks it off for me. I am in shambles. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to get away from my abuser, my brain, addicted to the comfort and safety of him around, begs for him not to leave me. I’ve spent so many years wishing someone, anyone in my life, would have intervened and told me to let him go. Did the adults in my life not see the red flags? I truly don’t think they did. I can’t be angry at them for that.
Inside, I was dying. I grew angrier each day, and my only escape was alcohol. Like a battered dog, I clung to him, convincing him to keep me at his side. I’d change myself for him, if he needed me to be more compatible for the relationship. Talk less, dress more normal, visit his parents while he was gone.
Begging for scraps, he obliged, deciding to continue the relationship with me. I spent my senior year of high school isolated, unable to connect with my peers, and pushing friends and good people away at the expense of being loyal to my abuser, who was off to defend our country instead of receiving the help that he himself likely needed.
At some point, freshly after I turned 18, he proposed. Thinking I was heading for the life of my dreams, I agreed. He was sent to Afghanistan, and we were set to get married after his year-long tour. With every milestone in our relationship, something told me it was wrong. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want him. But he was all I ever knew.
I went to college, and started to find myself. There, I started to question the engagement and if it was really what I wanted.
But all of the adults in my life told me it was just cold feet. And despite feeling like a woman, I was barely an adult, and so, I pushed my intuition to the side and went through with the plans.
Complacent in the relationship, complacent in the wedding. I agreed to a ceremony with religious ties I didn’t belong to, and an open bar despite the fact that I was 19 and couldn’t even legally drink. Whatever my husband wanted after coming home from the war, he would get, and I would just have to make due.
“I don’t think it’s cold feet,” I told my best friend before I walked down the aisle. She assured me it was, but how could she know? How could anyone? I never spoke the truth, or even admitted how much had went wrong in the years leading up to this. No one knew how damaged I was, what I had been sitting with – and then, there was him – a complete stranger to me, returning from a year long tour and neither of us having any idea what we were getting ourselves into.
I pushed through and said I Do. To this day, I’ll never forget the ominous, empty feeling that lingered, not an ounce of happiness running through my veins. He on the other hand, was enthralled, and I was convinced there was something wrong with me.
At the reception, I felt like a child. Cowered in the corner, nervous and afraid, in a dress that gave me imposter syndrome while my new, 21 year old husband, who had grown from a ‘boy’ to a ‘man’ that I barely knew, grew heavily intoxicated and celebrated with his friends that had bullied me since 9th grade. I clenched my fists, wanting to run away and hide. But I couldn’t, it was too late, and I had no one who knew the truth.
I spent my honeymoon on the floor, crying and telling him that I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to have sex with him. Feelings were surfacing, and I was starting to realize what he had done to me.
It was too late to back out. Our plans were in motion – I would join him soon, out of state to live with him on base. I had no future ahead of me, this was my only shot.
His alcoholism was worse than ever before. After what I had experienced as a teenager, I detested drinking, so I no longer participated. Instead, I was forced to regularly be the DD for himself and his friends. He already had a life made before I ever arrived and moved in with him, so, despite being his newlywed, I wasn’t integrated or included in that. I was separated, ostracized, and used as a maid.
Less than 6 months in, I remember telling him, “If this doesn’t change, I’m leaving you.”
The abuse continued, both sexual and mental. Being regularly put down, and coerced into sleeping with him, did numbers on my mental health. I slipped further into the shadows, releasing control. I didn’t care what happened to me anymore. I was trapped, and now miles away from any family or friends, stuck on a military base. Isolated and with no support system, I wanted to die, and had plans to kill myself on my 21st birthday.
Right before I could get there, he received orders to move to a new state. He promised that things would be ‘different’ here. They would get better. The state in question was one of my dreams – I always wanted to live in the mountains. So I agreed – to stay & move, on the contingency that we didn’t live on a military base where I felt so confined and out of place.
He agreed, and we set off across the country, but he found other ways of isolating me.
Farther away from home, and growing detached and distant from my friends and family, I told no one what was happening to me. We rented a house, and I posted status updates and pictures of the beautiful views, our travels, our new dog – anything to make it appear externally as if we were a happy, normal, couple.
Moving into my new home, I felt hopeful. Maybe things will change – maybe I’ll make friends in this new state. But that wasn’t in the cards for my husband, who limited my access to finances, never introduced me to anyone in his social circle, or included me in any events. Day in and day out, I sat in a house, alone and rotting, waiting for the courage to kill myself.
His drinking continued, and my mental health plummetted. After several attempts, I dropped out of college online, and gave up any aspirations or hope for the future. I couldn’t concentrate or focus. Our house grew filthy, I stopped showering or taking care of myself. I got tired of saying no to the coercion and grew so desperate for escape that I compromised by telling him he could have sex with me while I was asleep.
Then, to escape that, I simply stopped sleeping. 24-48 hours awake, hiding in the closet wrapped in a blanket with my laptop, my only sense of normalcy. I avoided him as much as possible. Sure, we had civil moments, but the majority of our time together was spent with him making fun of me, putting me down, until I shriveled up and became a shell with no personality. I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me, so I took to making friends online, and slowly, overtime, started to confide in them about what was really going on in the situation.
My 21st birthday was approaching, and I had a decision to make.
My husband took me out for dinner. It was the first time I had left the house in months, because I had no access to a vehicle or money. I didn’t want to drink, but in spirit of celebration, I ordered a cocktail. I didn’t like it. He berated me for wasting $14 on a drink and I cried, making up my mind. I would kill myself that evening after he went to bed.
We got home, and I logged into my computer. There were birthday messages from my online friends, and they wanted to celebrate with me virtually. I felt happy. I pushed the date back on the calendar, hanging on for a little while longer.
The months rolled by. Alcohol bottles covered the house, our kitchen and bathroom covered in filth. I gave up, only getting out of bed to take care of the dog we’d gotten together, and to talk to my friends online, my only reasons for living. I stopped picking up the phone when friends or family members called – they didn’t understand. And that wasn’t their fault, but I couldn’t tell them.
Eventually, I made it out. How I got to that point in many ways doesn’t matter, but there was a life defining moment where I realized I could have freedom if I really wanted it. So I told him I wanted a divorce. He wanted counseling. I knew it wouldn’t work for me, but I obliged, thinking it would make our families happy.
“We’ve just grown apart,” I told my mom and dad, never having echoed a single bit about any of the problems leading up to this.
The counselor on the military base told me it was my fault. I was combative and defensive, mentally ill, and she could tell I didn’t want the relationship to improve. All of that bias poured out onto me in one initial consultation. Maybe she was paid to take his side, I don’t know. While I respect the people that serve in the military, the military as an establishment has a major problem with rape culture, abuse, and alcoholism. I had seen all of this first hand, as well as their ability to cover things up and sweep them under the rug. So, it should have been no surprise to me that this was the case when I started indulging about the issues of our marriage – but I was shocked anyway. I felt myself spark – something still inside of me that I hadn’t felt in years.
I didn’t get to leave immediately. It wasn’t an easy process, but I made plans – this time, to live. To run far away and never look back. He never stopped trying to change my mind, and he never stopped trying to assault me. My last memory of seeing him, nearly 7 years ago, was physically pushing him and his advances off of me after he tried to pin me in a vehicle 5 minutes after we went to sign our divorce papers.
He would have never stopped. It would have never stopped. And If I had stayed, I’m certain I’d be dead.
Truthfully, I’ve never had a ‘real’ relationship following this, and I’m not sure I ever will be capable of doing so. I’ve been in love, but it was never with my ex-husband, or, the label I’d like to appropriately give him, my abuser. And because of my trauma, that love didn’t work out.
For a long time, I felt broken in ways that I couldn’t express. Devoid of any personality, I had repressed so many parts of myself. I stayed hidden in the corner, quiet and afraid. He had put my fire out entirely, but the day I decided to leave for good it started sparking again.
If I’m being quite frank, now, I’m furious. I’m furious for the years that were robbed from me, and that because of my distrust of men, I’ll likely never open myself up again to the concept of love, or a willing relationship. I’m not sure if that’s something that will change.
I’m turning 29 this year. I definitely did not foresee me making it this long. I’ve told close friends, and, a watered down version of what happened to some of my family, but I’ve never written my story out in full. I’ve done a lot of healing, but the work is never done, and likely never will be.
I want to be alive and I want to love, more so than ever before. I want to be loud. I want to yell. I want to be seen and noticed and I will no longer shrink myself or hide who I am. But in order for me to do these things and exist in this state and make the most of my life, I need to tell my entire truth. And that starts here.