Healing from abuse & assault is a lifetime process worthy of your attention & compassion
For the past 18 years, I’ve spent most of my life channeling all of my energy into being independent and free from the controlling influence of anyone else. For so long, I thought this was a badge of honor. I’d worked hard to build a life for myself and the only one who can take credit for everything I’ve done, is me.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, in the mess of issues surrounding Brett Kavanaugh, that a whole slew of personal issues I’d been swearing off begin to reappear. My desperation for control and tendency to flee from situations that make any attempt to control me, boils down to one thing.
An abusive relationship I was in when I was 15 years old. This teenage boy, whose name is so incredibly hard for me to say that my friends took to calling him Voldemort after the relationship ended, took so much from me in the short time we spent together.
I thought that I had fled the county and state and left it all behind; I felt that my heart was healing because I didn’t always think about the things that had happened all those years ago. In fact, many of the most traumatic moments began to fade into the back of my memory. I’d been convinced for years that I was a strong woman who could overcome the obstacles thrown at her.
But every time these stories come out, and every time I hear a story told from the perspective of another victim, I began to realize how very little that was true.
There are a few things that I think it’s hard for people to understand if they’ve never been in that situation. When they try to make excuses for young men and the things they do that are just “boys being boys.” When they think that a man shouldn’t have his whole life ruined by a “mistake,” he made when he was a teenager.
For those of us that were abused, it lasts our entire life, so why should it be any different for these boys?
The scars of abuse and assault last a lifetime
I carry these memories around me to this day. I’ve had trouble talking about it with my mom, with my best friends, with people who lived with me through the situation and saw it second hand.
The whispers of the doubts and fears I had in my head started to quiet the older and more independent I became, but when I hear the echoes of them scattered across social media from defenders I’m immediately drawn back into that world. Into the mind of that young woman who didn’t know how to get out of a situation she had put herself in.
Wasn’t I suppose to be happy he loved me? Wasn’t I thought to be okay with everything that was happening because we were in a relationship? If I spoke up, would other people write it off because we were in a relationship together? Wouldn’t they call me a liar for thinking anything he did to me was wrong?
I look back on it now and hear what people spew while they stand on their soapbox on the internet, and I know for certain I was right to hide behind a curtain of pain. I don’t know that I would have had the courage or strength to survive the storm of hurtful comments that would have come my way at that age.
It doesn’t matter that this happen to me 18 years ago. It’s still with me every single day. It’s ruined pieces of my life that I’ve struggled to put back together. Which brings me to number 2.
It affects every relationship in your life
I’ve spent so much time channeling my energy into things that have kept me protected from ever being hurt like that again. I don’t think I realized the extent of it until recently.
I’ve never had a real adult relationship. It’s virtually impossible for me to put my trust in a man in any way, shape or form. That doesn’t just end at romantic entanglements. It extends to male friendships, coworkers, and family members. I’m always wondering what their intentions are, whether or not they’re trying to control me, worried they’re going to try and silence my voice or treat me like I’m less than they are.
I’m not less than they are. That much I’ve learned over the years. But I’m constantly scaling the walls of my own fortress to ensure they can’t get close enough to knock it down.
Unfortunately, the part that hit me hard over the past week is that it’s not just men. I do this with all of my relationships. Except for a few very close friends, I fear anyone getting close to me.
I fear trusting anyone with what I really think and feel. Letting people get to know me on a deeper level. And sometimes, even when I do let that guard down and let people in, I find it all too easy to build it back up again when I’m exhausted by the reality of it.
I keep almost everyone in my life at arm's length. It can change from day to day. I can confide in you constantly for a long time and then suddenly just stop. Because of my fear, because of my inherent inability to trust, I’ve made it impossible to be the kind of friend I know I could be. Or the friend I know I should be.
Even to the people who have held my hand and let me cry on their shoulder without ever placing blame or shame on my shoulders. And that, more than anything, kills me when I think about it.
It’s a constant battle of control and independence
When you have control taken away from you the thing you want most in the world is to get it back. I ran after all the things I knew I could control in my life — like where I lived, who was in my life, and what I did for a living.
The moment something felt like it was slipping from my control, I would start to unravel. I still begin to unravel. The instability can shake me to my core. Force me to break down in tears and spiral emotionally. I’d move again or cut off a relationship. I’d stop talking to people or stay home for days and cry. Loss of control is a kryptonite that, at times, has completely destroyed me.
My life has been a constant search for independence, so much so that it has been impossible for me to give any of myself over to anyone else. It’s, luckily, the one thing I’ve been able to start to loosen my grip on over the past few years. My anxiety around control began to lessen when I realized that sometimes life just throws you curve balls, but if you go with it instead of unraveling it can actually bring you to the place you were meant to be.
It was a lesson almost 30 years in the making. It’s one of many steps I still need to take on this journey through recovering from this nightmare. But it’s something.
And that’s another thing about people healing from abuse of any kind, any small step feels impossibly hard but coming out on the other side is absolutely everything.
Upon reflecting on so many of the issues I’ve struggled with for years, I’ve realized how damaging my need to escape the past has been on me.
Despite swearing to never to let someone control me again, I’ve allowed this entire situation to control my entire life for 18 years. I’ve allowed it to keep me from experiencing love, trust, and relationships the way that so many of my peers have. I’m self-aware enough to understand that I have a lot of work to do. The idea of it is impossible sometimes. Most days, at least lately, I’m so full of frustration and anger that I want to throw in the towel. How hard could it really be to live life alone?
I ask myself that question all the time. Some days I can accept that idea that I could always be this way, and maybe that’s the card life dealt me when I walked onto that high school campus all those years ago.
And other days, I think the real fuck you to the man that did this to me is to keep fighting like hell to live the life I deserve. That all women deserve. By fighting for what’s right, fighting for myself, and fighting for the future.