****Possible trigger warning. Read with caution.****
Growing up in a rural area, all of my friends were at least a mile away from me. There were no neighbors. I went to school forty minutes from home until high school, and then it was still twenty minutes to school. I share this because I consider the isolation to have been a key part of what was able to happen back then.
The fights between my parents were something of a debacle. Screaming. Profanity. Holes in the walls. My mother cowering. Kitchen chairs flying between rooms. Sometimes, we would leave. My mother would put my brother and I into the car and drive to her parents’ house or to one of her sibling’s homes. I think the idea was to not let any one of them know how often we were actually leaving, swearing each of them to secrecy.
This was a routine that we had. We’d go someplace, and I would sit in silent shame as my mother held back tears. I would sit in silent shame as my relatives pursed their lips and expressed disapproval. I always thought it was for all three of us, and no one ever explained to me that it was to my father for his actions and my mother for staying.
I never knew that this was not the normal way of a family though. I knew we left sometimes, but no one ever explained anything to me. I knew my aunts and uncles fought also; family gossip was one of my mother’s outlets. Point out what is wrong with everyone else and pretend we are the ones who live well. I didn’t understand that their fights were different.
The routine would end with a call from my father, apologizing and asking Mom to bring us all home. Then one day he broke the routine. He rewrote my illusion of normalcy.
We had gone to my grandparent’s house that time. I was sitting in my silent shame as my grandmother very tensely pursed her lips and very tersely addressed us as needed. Then my father came through their front door and announced, “Let’s go; we’re leaving.”
He was still mad, and I did not want to go. I was moving very slowly to put on my shoes, and I guess I didn’t know enough to be afraid. He had never hit me yet. He lashed out swiftly; shoving me back hard. I fell and hit my head against a wooden rocking chair.
My mother quickly, sharply spoke my father’s name. My grandmother crossed her arms.
I began pouting and declared, “You hit me!”
“You tripped,” he replied with no remorse. No other adult countermanded him.
We left with my father, and then all the fights played out without a chance to leave. I hid in my room or snuck outside if I could. There were trees to climb. Being the smallest, I could conceal myself in their branches.
Before long, it was also my brother. His temper mirrored my father’s. My mother, having finally hit a breaking point, began lashing out at me too.
My father would deliver singular, swift blows of a fist to the side of a head, swiftly slam my skull against my brother’s, or scream and put holes in walls/break furniture.
My brother would shove my mother, punch me in the side of my head, or try to beat me up. I learned to fight back against him, leading to a two-way street of violence that we walked regularly. He molested me but only the once; my father nearly caught him.
My mother was the worst to me. Her abuse was emotional, physical, and sexual once I began to mature physically.
It rose in intensity until I had ceased eating at the age of 12 from the internalized hatred of me. People began noticing, and that was the most unacceptable thing. So, my father told her to leave me alone, and that was all it took. Then I had just him and my brother to contend against. My protector was also my abuser.
When I mentioned calling the police a couple of times, I was told, “Go right ahead.” My parents laughed and explained that I would be relieving them of a burden. The police would take me away and not them; I would go to live with strangers in a strange home. I actually thought that was scarier than them.
That was my childhood. I soon became an adult and moved away. Having never seen a healthy relationship and having no idea for a long time that other families were not keeping the same family secrets to themselves… things got worse for me.
In college I found first one emotionally abusive and controlling boyfriend. He cheated and left me for the other woman. I replaced him a while later with another emotionally manipulative, controlling, and sexually abusive boyfriend.
It was during that relationship that I was assaulted by a stranger. I had gone to a wedding for someone who is dear to me, and I trusted the best man on the basis of his family. Isn’t that a normal thing to do? I know your brother, and I assume you are like him. No, don’t do that.
This “best” man is a rapist, and I was raped in my hotel room. He forced his way through the door after knocking. My only mistake was to open the door in answer to an unexpected knock, forgetting the chain.
I confided in my boyfriend that I had awakened naked next to a man. My mind was confused, and I didn’t remember clearly everything that had happened. I once again despised myself.
My boyfriend fully believed that I was cheating and that at best I “put [my]self in that situation” every time that I went out with my coworkers after a day at my internship had ended. He broke up with me, but he didn’t leave me yet.
He still wanted all the benefits of a relationship, but he wanted not to label it as that. He said he did not love me anymore, but he talked to me about myself and my body as though I were a drug. He manipulated my emotions in ways I could not have imagined before him.
Finally, one night long after we had parted ways more completely, he sexually assaulted me too. I protested for hours, and he did not stop. I visibly winced in pain, and he ironically apologized as he continued. That was the more brutal of the assaults.
The next day, he announced to me that he had a girlfriend and had been with her for a while. She was not me. He simply ordered me to take Plan B and expected me to forget it.
I did not. I reported him to campus authorities. All of this between us had played out on our campus. This was the year that Title IX reform had started a big splash about sexual assaults on campuses. My case was taken seriously.
Yes, my case was “taken seriously” by a panel of people who asked me if I liked rape role play, if he had any reason to think I liked it rough, and if I would not have reported him in the case that he had not “left me” for another woman. I accused a man of raping me, but still my sexuality, motive, and credibility were placed on trial. They said they couldn’t be sure that the sex wasn’t consensual.
I fought panic attacks, depression, and suicidal ideation with the help of a few people who are now very dear to me. I started counseling after the first assault, and I began learning about healthy relationships. I am not here to say that everything will be perfect though.
After surviving college all the way to graduation and moving away, I had what I can only describe as a relapse in symptoms to the very early, very dark days following the second assault. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, and I relive my story too often.
Yet, I feel stronger by the day or week. Yet, I hold a full time job and have my first romantic relationship since leaving the cycle of abuse. Yet, I am still here and still surviving.
If you feel alone, I am with you. If you want to quit, I will carry you along until you are strong enough to stand again. If you need courage, then know that you will find it. You have survived because you are a survivor like me. There are so many of us.
Not you. Not me. No more isolation. This is us, surviving together.