Trigger Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"On Loving an Abuser," Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
Sometimes it’s over before you even understand what is happening. Some moments feel like an eternity, others feel like a flicker, a flicker you can barely remember or understand. I stared at the ceiling trying to piece together the steps that made me get to where I was in that moment.
All I could see was my ceiling, all I could smell was stale beer, all I could taste was his lips on me, all I could feel was his breath on the back of my neck as he slept soundly next to me. I laid there for what seemed like hours, but was only minutes.
I wanted to move, I wanted to get up, take a shower, and wash away my tainted skin. But if I moved, the moment would become real. Everything would be real, and I was not even sure what just happened.
Eventually, my choice was made for me. He rolled over, wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me close. He whispered into my ear and told me how great I had been. Told me I was beautiful. Told me I was special. I remained silent and still. With that, he got up, collected his clothes from the far corners of my room and walked away.
I laid in my bed all day that Sunday. The shower I took did not make my skin feel fresh, and my sheets rolled up on the corner of my floor were taunting me. I ran the day before through my head more times than I can count.
It was like any other Saturday. My shift started at in the afternoon, and I was out of work by 10pm. Myself and a few of my male coworkers went out to drink after work. I did not work with a lot of women, so these guys and myself were close. As the night wore on, there were 6 of us, 4, then three, and finally it was just us. I had no reason to worry, we were friends. I am not a heavy drinker, and that night I drank more than I usually do. I was having fun.
When it was just the two of us sitting the park, he lit his joint and told me to smoke. I was apprehensive. I was still young and inexperienced. He told me I would like it. I trusted him so I did. By the time it was done, everything was foggy. He looked at me and said, it is way past midnight, the trains stopped running, “can I stay at your place?”
We were only a few blocks away so I agreed, “Yeah, you can sleep on my floor.”
We stumbled back to my apartment and walked up to my single dorm room. I immediately had to pee, so I went down the hall to use the bathroom. When I came back he was already down to his boxers lying on my bed. I thought nothing of it. I reached into my closet and laid out my spare blankets and pillows on the floor for my guest. The entire time he just lay, watching me and smiling. I presented him with his makeshift bed, but he said that he wanted to sleep on my bed. Again, we were friends and I trusted him.
Before I could fully lay down, he had his hands on me. At first, it was soft, but it progressively became firm. He reached down my shorts, but I pulled his hand out. He pulled on them until they were off. I told him that I wasn’t ready.
All he said was “you will like it.”
Before I knew it, he was on top of me, but I could barely see straight. It felt as if my movements were meaningless and in slow motion. Nothing I did mattered and my words were only background noise. I closed my eyes. Eventually it was over. Or, at least that is what I thought.
It wasn’t until Sunday at 3:30 in the afternoon that I realized I was going to be late to work, and I had my next shift with him. I got dressed and walked out the door. As the neon sign of my workplace shined in the distance, I questioned what I was walking into, but I kept walking. His face was the first I saw when I walked in. He smiled wide at me and awaited my approach. When I was within ear shot he said, “I missed you.” I ignored his comment and clocked in.
The shift began as any other.
It made me feel that maybe what had happened had been a dream, or a nightmare. When the night shift approached, and all of my friends who I drank with the night before walked in and everything changed. We were all chatting in the basement, and out of nowhere he grabbed me and pulled me close in front of these coworkers. He treated me as if I was his, and was displaying that to the world. I was speechless.
My coworkers jumped to conclusions. They were excited and congratulated him on getting laid. In one moment, I went from an individual to a part. When they went up the stairs he pushed me against the wall and stuck his tongue down my throat.
Just as he had the night before.
I felt weak, meaningless, and controlled. He stepped back, looked at me and said that he wanted me, that he cared for me, and that we were good together. When he walked back upstairs to join my coworkers, I stood still. I did not think. I just stood. I stood until someone called my name to see where I was.
From that moment on I felt boxed in. He told me he cared for me, but I did not think that is what caring felt like. He told me we were good together, but my skin began to crawl when I was around him.
I was naïve. I had never committed myself to another person the way that he forcefully committed himself to me. In my attempt to make sense of what had just happened, I validated. He was drunk, I was drunk, I invited him over, maybe this is what relationships are meant to be? That is the moment I truly let him take a hold over me.
For the next two months of my life I let him control my actions and my body.
He was good at it.
The night I went into CVS at 2 in the morning to avoid being seen buying a pregnancy test was not enough to release his hold over me. I flashed forward to the future of having a child with a person who I was scared of and attached to was unimaginable.
That summer, I spent my days with my coworkers, and he was impossible to escape. He would buy his bottle of whiskey, pass the paper bag to me and give me a look that made me feel simultaneously small and important. I would take a sip out of the bottle and know that I did not like it, but felt unable to stop myself from doing what he wanted me to do. The drinking became a pattern to the point where he was always drinking. I thought the more I drank the better I would feel, but I felt sore.
It was not until he announced that he would be moving to New York City the upcoming weekend that his grasp on me began to weaken. However, when he first told me, my initial feeling was sadness. In that moment, I thought I was losing the only person who would ever care for me.
I thought that there was a chance I would be alone forever, and that the way he treated me was better than loneliness. His words and his actions manipulated me into feeling that I thought I was worthless without him.
The sadness did not last forever.
Next came the depression, anxiety, anger, regret, and shame. How could I have let someone do that to me? What type of person am I to be so weak? The thing about anxiety is, these feelings and questions did not go away.
They lingered underneath my skin. They made me wonder what was wrong with me. My anxiety and shame also prohibited me from sharing any of this with anyone I knew. I was terrified of what people would think of me.
I pushed it down as far as I could and moved on. I pretended that those two months did not happen and attempted to move on with my life. That was unsuccessful. Although that initial sting of this experience has dulled, it still affects me every day. I know my family wonders why I have yet to find someone I love, but the fear of being vulnerable often feels too daunting to overcome. Although it has been years since this has happened, and it was not until well after those two months that I realized how it has shaped my life, I can’t overcome that fear.
I only hope that in the future I am able to continue my healing and meet a person who can help me move on. I know that many people will not understand how I “let this happen”, but I do not care about them anymore. My message to anyone else out there who has had a similar experience is to share. Whoever you trust, share. Do not let your story go untold.
About the art:
Writing these tidbits for pieces of art created for anonymous survivors will be purposefully vague for the sake of the identity of the survivor, who has chosen to remain anonymous for now.
This piece was specifically chosen by the survivor. They wanted this quote because it is a line from one of their favorite films, "Rushmore." The colors were chosen by me as a reflection of the warmth this person exudes in their daily lives.
This quote serves as a reminder that someone is not defined by their trauma, but defined by what they love and by what they love to do. This survivor has chosen to keep that reminder close to them after reliving an experience of abuse that they do not want to define them.
Instead, they are pursuing a life of giving back to other college students. As a current graduate student, this survivor is pursuing a career in Student Affairs in Higher Education, in which they can give back to their current and future student by advocating for students to speak up when experiencing or witnessing forms of sexual violence.
I am proud of this survivor for using this medium as the first time they have shared this story, ever. We are thankful for their resilience and the bravery they have shown in putting words to a heinous situation.