Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.
"There's Always a Way to be Good Again," 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.
Author's note: All names have been changed.
I starting dating Max as a rebound—I’d been dating another guy for a few months, but when he graduated from college he ended things with me as he moved across the country. He immediately demanded to have sex with me and would get angry at me because I wanted to wait—we had only been dating for a little less than a month and I wasn’t comfortable with it at that point. However, we continued to casually see each other over the summer.
The issues started that whenever he left the bars, Max would demand to hook up with me. He frequented a bar across the street from my apartment. Max would repeatedly call me and show up at my apartment, pounding on my door. After a while, I got scared and would pretend to not be home. This went on for a couple weeks and he became increasingly meaner when he’d try to drunkenly hook up with me.
Max got irritated with me when I went home to visit my parents because they had purchased me a new-to-me car as a surprise. I remember him completely dismissing my excitement and threatening to find someone better than me. I can remember where I was when I got the texts—I was in the car with my mom driving to the courthouse to get the license plates for my car. Max told me that he’d hooked up with someone else, that she was skinnier than me, better than me at sex, and more accomplished than me. But then I coincidentally got another text from a mutual friend saying that Max had essentially date raped the girl, she was so drunk that there was no way she could have consented. My friend tried to intervene, but it was a large party and he couldn’t make it across the room in time to catch them.
I was bawling in the courthouse when my mom told me that I needed to have nothing to do with Max, that I needed to find a way that he couldn’t contact me. That he wasn’t a man that any woman should be associated with. When I got back to my college town that Sunday night, I went to Max’s apartment to get the textbooks I’d left at his apartment. When we got into his room, he shut the door and started trying to have sex with me. I kept saying no and moving away from him. He was laying down behind me when I tried to get up and he forced me back down, pinning both of my arms down with one arm, and penetrating me with the other.
“See? It feels good. Sex feels good. Why the fuck do you not get that?” Max said.
I kept yelling stop over and over. I finally managed to get one arm out from under his, and struggled to get his hand out my body. When he finally gave up he said that if I wasn’t going to have sex with him, I needed to get out of his apartment. He threw my books at me and I left, wandering in shock through the campus apartments until my friend came to get me.
The next day I told my friends Ellen and Ashley. Ellen and Ashley both freaked out and told me to go to the Women’s Center on campus, that I’d been assaulted. I didn’t believe that I had, because I hadn’t been raped. That it was my fault for not protesting enough when he kissed me. I actually tried to block it from my mind and tried to pretend nothing had happened past Max being a jerk.
But it started to creep up in other ways. In an interesting turn of events, I started dating my now-husband about a month later. Nick was kind and patient, never pressured me for sex, genuinely wanted to get to know me as a person and most of all he respected me at all times. But I would cry and cry at night because I was damaged and didn’t deserve someone to love me. I didn’t know where the feeling came from. Then suddenly, my OCD worsened—I would check my body over and over for signs of disease. That something obviously had to be wrong with me. (I wouldn’t seek mental health counseling for that particular for 3 years. It was a long 3 years of compulsions.) Worst of all, Max would harass Nick and I by texting us. He’d tell Nick I was a whore and tell me all of my perceived sexual and physical flaws. Eventually, I had block Max from every conceivable way of contacting me.
It happened in July 2009. It’s been nearly 7 years and my psyche hasn’t repaired. The words he said to me and the assault I survived pulses in my head over and over; that I’m worthless, ugly, fat, and undesirable. That nobody wants me. The only thing I’m worthwhile for is to be used and thrown away.
I’m accomplished in my profession, I have a master’s degree, my life is filled people who love me—but the feelings of worthlessness swirl in my head. It catches me in the aisles of auditoriums and on couches when I want to speak my truth. It stops me in dressing rooms of stores and encourages me in the bathrooms when I purge food. It hisses at me when I’m vulnerable and heartbroken, insinuating that the world would be better without my life in it.
The only thing that stops that feeling in my chest and those words in my head is a paraphrase of the Kite Runner—that there’s always a way to be good again. That there is always a way to fill my heart and build my self esteem, even when I don’t think that there is. That there’s a reason to keep living for the next 15 minutes, the next hour, to wake up the next morning.
There’s always a way to be good again.
About the art:
Firstly, I am glad this survivor spoke out against the realities of being in a relationship with an abuser. This survivor wanted to lend a voice to the pain and struggle experienced by many people who have felt powerless to an abuser.
This survivor chose the words, "There's always a way to be good again," from the book Kite Runner as an homage to their story and their survival. It is a reminder that no matter what they've been through, there is always a way to rise above and be stronger than ever before.
The resiliency of this survivor's story is what motivated me to used warm oranges on this painting. I wanted the piece to give this survivor a feeling of warmth, a brightness of comfort. And I'm glad to know that the survivor loved that choice. I also tried some new font styles on this piece, so I might play around with that a little bit more in the future.
For now, I'm thankful for this survivor's existence and for being courageous enough to share their words and their reality. Thank you, survivor.