Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I have a story.

April is sexual assault awareness month. October is domestic violence awareness month. While I am generally a little put off by "awareness months" and colored ribbon campaigns as a whole, it is generally during the month of April (which has always, as a rule, been a hard month for me, memory-wise), when I am prompted, by whatever source, to tell "my story." Fortunately for me, or maybe unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, this month has been great and I haven't been moved to share what happenned to me, until now, as April draws to a close without a hitch. And, ironically, what moved me to tell this story now is the fact that I haven't been moved to tell it in a long time. For me, that's wonderful news. However, I've grown strong enough to be comfortable talking about it, and if what I have to tell can help even one person, somewhere, gain the strength and confidence to get out of an abusive relationship, then I have achieved an important goal by telling my story. So here I am, and I have a lot to say, so bear with me.

My sophomore year in high school, I somehow found my self dating @sshole (we'll call him that for purposes of this story - everyone has an @sshole, right?). I was kind of a nerd, I confess, honors classes all around, and a's and b's in those classes. He was captain and star-goalie of the soccer team. Very popular. Not that popularity was an issue for me, I had been dating one of his best friends the year before, and I had plenty of friends of my own. In my high school, the nerds were actually the biggest jocks and party animals in the school, which was a bit odd in and of itself. Things were going well in my little corner of the world. For a few months. Somewhere along the line, though, the relationship got out of my control. I was always a strong, confident girl. I played sports my whole life, I was captain of my softball teams, my figure skating team - hell, I figure skated for 15 years, for God's sake, and that alone takes an @ss-load of strength and confidence, trust me. But alas, somehow, I found myself in this horrendous situation where I was dating this uber-popular guy who suddenly completely controlled every aspect of my life.

And by every aspect, I mean every aspect. I didn't have a say in the clothes I wore or how I wore my hair or who I hung out with outside of school, or, to some extent, in school, or anything else that matters when you're in high school. And in the beginning, in my head, that was my decision. I liked being around him, and I wanted to do what he wanted to make him happy - whatever it took and whatever the cost. I can't remember now how long it took me to fully grasp what was happening to me, and what I was becoming, but somehow I don't think it took all that long. For a while, I had friends who were dating friends of his, and we would all go out together, but then he became beyond possessive and we couldn't go anywhere, because he didn't want anyone else to so much as look at me.

He was violent in a number of ways, and for a while that really was never directed at me. He got in fights a lot, in the most random places, he was an extremely aggressive driver and I never liked riding in the car with him because he would get very angry at the other drivers around him, when it was clear that he was the one driving like a maniac. He was like a hand grenade that someone had already pulled the pin on, and you were just waiting for it to explode at any second. It was inevitable that he would explode, you just couldn't really tell when it was coming. At some point, and again, I don't remember the exact turning point, but I feel like it wasn't all that far into our 2-ish year relationship, the violence turned on me. At first he would just yell at me, threaten me, demean me, and generally just cut me down. Severely. At some point I lost whatever self-confidence I may have had, especially when I was around him. Sometimes, if he wasn't around and I was just with friends, or if I was skating, I could come out of my shell, and sort of act like my old self, but I can remember that becoming more and more difficult as the time went on.

You know the next part, right? After I was broken down enough emotionally, it was only a matter of time before the violence became physical, and from there, obviously, sexual. And so it was for the better part of my high school life that I found myself being abused in every way that I could think of. I was a shell of myself. I forever wore long sleeves and pants, no matter what time of year; turtlenecks became my friends, despite my previous hatred for them (I still don't love them, either), as did concealer. Although, he was a smart abuser, if that's not too much of an oxymoron - he generally wouldn't touch my face, or places that he knew bruises would show. But there were a few times, like when he pushed me up the stairs and I smacked my forehead on the steps in front of me, or when I'd try to argue back or fight back and I'd catch an elbow in the temple (that, of course was my fault for fighting with him). He cheated on me with probably half the girls in school, but would go off on me if he saw me so much as look at a single guy in any of my classes. There were a lot of double standards, which probably goes without saying. But, like any abuser, he'd always apologize, buy flowers, take me somewhere I had been really wanting to go, the usual bullshit. But we'd both know that it was only a matter of time (sometimes day, often hours) before it would happen again.

It went on and on. I'd threaten to leave, he'd threaten to kill himself if I did - hell, he'd threaten to hunt me down and kill me if I did. So I stayed. My friends all saw what was happening, but didn't know what to do other than to be there for me when I'd let them be. Because outwardly, I tried so damn hard to make it look like everything was my idea, or my fault, and that we had this great relationship. I hid it because I was ashamed of the situation that I had let myself fall into, and terrified of the fact that either I'd never get out of it, or I would die trying. I lost a lot of friends, and seriously alienated my family. Everyone around me recognized that something was terribly wrong, but because I was so brainwashed, I would not let anyone close enough to even try to help me.

I can remember the Pearl Jam song "Better Man" came out while we were dating. It was my personal, secret theme song. He even joked about that in the car with one of his friends one night, that I sing that song to myself about him - haha, he thought that was a great joke, and I couldn't help but feel terrified that he would actually find out that I really did feel that way about him, and what would happen to me then. All I thought about was how to leave and do it safely and cleanly. I was 17, I couldn't exactly pack up and move. One Friday afternoon, after school and before work, I was sitting in his bedroom in his house, silently watching him play violent video games and scream at the games and at me, and thinking that I couldn't let this happen for much longer. I commented on how much I hated sitting and listening to him scream at the games, and how boring that was for me. He obviously said something mean about me not having a choice in what we were going to do, and I should be happy just to sit there with him, because he was my boyfriend and that's what I was supposed to do. I stood up and said, "Okay I'm leaving."

I must have looked kind of serious, because he asked me "you mean, like, for now, or for good?" And while when I first stood up, it was for now, because I had to go to work, and I figured I would see him later that night or whatever and the vicious cycle that had become my life would continue. But when he asked me that, I almost felt like a door had just opened in front of me and I could suddenly see some kind of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Like he was offering me an out. I got dizzy. I was in a daze as I pondered what might happen if I actually said it, and the rest of that day and the whole week that follows remains kind of a daze to me. I remember vaguely nodding my head and answering "For good. Yup, for good," and then turning and walking out of his bedroom, down the short hallway to the stairs, descending and opening the front door at the bottom to leave. As I opened the door is when I heard the thunderous footsteps behind me and felt the grip on my upper arm yanking me back in to house. He became desperate. I never, ever could have guessed that this would be the actual result of my actions. He cried. I cried. I just kept saying that I had to go to work, and I was going to be late, and no, I wouldn't be back. He didn't hit me. He yelled a lot, but he didn't hit me. And he was angry, but also desperate, maybe even hurt. But somehow just saying those two words: "for good," I had momentarily gained back years of lost confidence. I yelled back. Then, with a completely empty promise to call him after work, I got in my car and drove away from that house for the last time.

The whole time I was at work, I watched the door, ready to yell "fire!" the second he walked in. He never did. I didn't call when I got home from work. I slept like a baby that night. In the morning, he called. I took the phone and told him not to ever call my house again, that I was done, and that if I had anything to say to him, I'd call him, and that I would call the police if he tried to come anywhere near me. When I told my parents I had left, they cheered, hugged me and told me how much they loved me. My mom bought me almost an entire new wardrobe that week. When I told my friends, they had the same reaction, except the clothes; they took me out for ice cream instead. I think maybe he realized that he had driven me away himself. Like maybe somewhere deep in there he knew what he was doing was wrong (in more than just the cyclic sense, like maybe he actually knew that he wasn't right in the head). I say this because he pretty much let me go. He didn't chase me; he stopped calling; eventually he stopped driving by to see if I was home and waiting outside school to see who I left with; he never approached me again, except one about 6 months later, when I had him thrown out of a club (it's nice to know the bouncers). It's been almost 12 years since I got out of that relationship, and to this day, I cannot say where the courage came from to just stand up and walk away that day.

And none of that matters. What he did to me is unforgivable, and everlasting. I still suffer with the remnants of what he did to me. Like I said, normally not a month goes by that I don't have at least one breakdown. My husband might say that sometimes maybe I use my past as an excuse, and to some extent I might. But it's a legitimate excuse. The high that I felt after leaving him was very much temporary. Within a very short period of time I was involved with starting a group for girls in my high school who were either currently in or recently out of abusive dating relationships. That was heartbreaking. There were about 30 of us in one high school, ranging from freshman to seniors. College was very ugly for the first two years. I went away to school to try to start over, to escape. There's no escaping your past until you face it. I was in counselling for about 4 years, on anti-depressants for a long time. I was incapable of having a healthy, committed relationship, because in large part, I no longer understood what that meant. I had to rebuild myself.

I tell this story because I hope that I can help even one woman get out of a terrifying situation. You are not alone, and you are strong enough to rise above. Seek help, you don't have to do it on your own, and you don't have to feel ashamed. It is not your fault.

1 comment:

  1. Susan, I just came across this and I know it was a million years ago now, and you said when you were skating you acted like your old self, but I feel sorry that I never noticed.

    I have a somewhat similar story of a bad relationship that was nearly impossible to get out of. He never hit me, but I'm sure that was coming. I had to pretend I was sick to actually be allowed to see my family. We're both very lucky these days to have found good guys who treat us like gold.

    Also I never thought you were a nerd...you were always one of the coolest people I knew.

    -the co-captain of your skating team