Trigger warning: The following article discusses themes of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse in a domestic setting. Please proceed with caution.
I was just barely 19 when it first happened. I don’t remember at what point exactly consensual, though perhaps naïve and inexperienced, sex crossed a line and became violent, repeated rape. I’ve lost the memories and will likely never regain them. This due to the shock and trauma of the incidents, but also because I did not realize what was occurring at the time.
But little fragments of the experiences have lodged themselves into my brain, confirming the existence of my past. Reminding me lest I ever forget. All I know with certainty now is that it happened.
Before the abuse: naivete and innocence
Nowadays, I think it’s fair to say that most people recognize that rapists aren’t necessarily strangers who jump out of bushes and assault women at night. The majority of sexual abuse victims knew their perpetrators before the incident. But back in 2016, not even a year after I graduated from high school, this was not common knowledge in my social circles.
After working a full-time job that I despised for seven months, I saved up enough money to chase my dream. I signed up for an eight-week acting course in New York. In early March of that year, I arrived in the city, innocent and inexperienced in almost all aspects of life.
When a boy in my course started giving me attention, I quickly decided it must be love. What followed was roughly two months of regular beatings, threats, emotional abuse, and rape. When my “no” and “stop” never had any impact, I learned to let go of my own will. Not just sex, but my entire person became defined by how it could serve my boyfriend.
Trying to process
After I moved back to my country for a couple of months, I broke up with him over the phone. I don’t know why I did it exactly. The course had ended, and our relationship seemed to have been contained within it. He later told me that being unreachable to him when I ended things saved my life.
At this point, I was still completely unaware of any abuse. I realized that I was in a different, strange mental state. I felt more depressed and afraid than ever before, reacted strangely to regular occurrences or remarks, adopted new tics. But why, I did not know.
Only almost a year after it happened, when I had returned to New York, did I start to come to terms with what happened to me. However, facing something of this magnitude at 19 years old seemed impossible. I went to counseling for several months, then graduated from the conservatory I was attending – in which, by some twist of fate, I was placed in the same class as my rapist – and was no longer able to afford professional help.
Fool me once, shame on you…
I got a new boyfriend in the summer of 2017. He was someone from my closest friend circle, someone whom we all trusted and loved, someone who I was sure would never hurt me. Yes, we fought almost daily, but he assured me that this was just what relationships were like. How could I know? I’d only ever been in an abusive one before. Yes, he cussed at me and called me names, but it was only because he loved me so much that he couldn’t stand it when we fought. Sure, he’d deliberately hurt me, emotionally and physically, but he did it because he loved me so much. He told me what I could and couldn’t wear, but he did it because he loved me. So much.
He loved me. I loved him. That was all that mattered.
The final incident
A couple of nights before I moved away – for good, this time – he lost any cool he may have possessed. He later accused me of not putting enough emphasis on his state of mind when I talked about what happened. At the time, this made me feel guilty, but now I personally no longer think it really matters. However, let me make this abundantly clear: He was not sober. He had taken more drugs than any person should ever do. He was upset because I was leaving. And he was heartbroken because he knew that I was slipping through his fingers after I expressed that I was no longer happy in our relationship.
That night, he attacked me, first trying to force himself on me, then abandoning that and focusing his energy on killing me instead. My roommate locked me in her room, and we waited for over 15 minutes for the police to arrive. In the meantime, he tried to smash a hole through the wall so he could get to me. The cops arrested him, left us to deal with the bloody and shattered mess that had once been our apartment and the emotional trauma we’d just experienced.
They let him sleep it off in the hospital and then, without explaining anything to him, let him waltz back into our apartment the next morning. My roommate, who saved my life in more ways than one, had to kick him out by herself while I hid under the covers. When his hospital bill arrived a couple of weeks later, he owed less than I did for a check-up on a yeast infection.
First steps of recovery
I let him explain the abuse away at first. I couldn’t be mad at him, really. He wouldn’t have done this if he’d been sober. My trauma sucked, sure, but had I ever considered how everyone was angry at him for what he’d done? At least, I had people to talk to. Plus, the poor boy had blacked out. He wished he were so lucky as to remember what happened!
I blocked him half a year later on all socials. Both my abusers had now completely disappeared out of my life. Getting to this point alone was a process full of pain, confusion, and tough decisions, accompanied by what must have been hundreds of panic attacks and thousands of tears. But it was only once I had completely cut both of them out of my life that my healing could fully begin.
A transformative question
“Do you think it’s necessary to forgive your abusers?” I remember asking my best friend this a few years ago, smoking weed and watching the stars, just as we like to do. “For me, it is,” she answered, “but healing is a personal journey.”
Despite her carefully worded and non-judgmental response, I knew then and there that I had to let my anger go. However, first, I had to find the tools to craft a balance between protecting myself, validating my experiences, and finding empathy for my exes. I learned that my healing was a passive process, guided by love and understanding for all parties. To forgive someone, I do not ever need to let them in my life again. But I do need to let go of any ill will towards them held in my heart.
Through meditation, reflection, and time, I have come to a point in my life where I feel almost no anger towards my abusers. I like to joke that my forgiveness comes with just a pinch of salt, but, really, I wish them both love, recovery, and growth. I now understand their life situations and the reasons for their actions. At the same time, I hold them accountable for the pain they caused me. I know that I am worthy of love – real love, not infatuation – from both myself and from others. I have found the strength, resilience, and dignity that has always been in me.
After the abuse: a brighter future
The day my ex tried to kill me felt like the worst day of my life. Now, looking back on it, I believe it was actually the best day of my life. It catapulted me onto a new life path, one of spiritual and emotional growth. Without that night, I may have never curated such a loving and caring relationship with myself.
Abuse survivors deserve a fulfilled, loving life. We deserve to rediscover the happiness and confidence that is so often robbed from us through our experiences. Abuse survivors deserve self-love, and we deserve love from others. Most of all, we deserve to live with more strength and joy than ever, not just despite but because of what happened to us.