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It's time.


New Here
It’s September 2018. About six years and four months ago. I don’t remember the exact date. And I’m glad I don’t. At least there’s one thing about this whole experience that isn’t etched into my memory. In May 2012, my naivety and innocence were taken from me. This is the first time I’m writing about this. I don’t know why now. It finally feels right.

Whenever I would hear or read about emotional abusive relationships, I was always very quick to pass judgement. I rolled my eyes as women excused certain behaviour and listed all their abuser’s good qualities. I was sure if it ever happened to me, I would be out of there quick smart. What I didn’t consider, is that I wouldn’t actually know I was being treated badly. It sounds ridiculous: you’d think shitty behaviour is so easy to spot. Except that it’s not. Emotional abuse is not a switch that flips. It’s more like a slow, steady slide. One minute you’re in love, then there’s a flicker of something not right, but you’re still in love so you tell yourself it doesn’t matter. You explain away the tiny changes, justify his actions, maybe even blame yourself. Eventually the small things add up, but because of your love-coloured glasses you can only see them as a bunch of little problems, not one massive red flag.

From the moment L. confessed his feelings for me, I was totally gone. I was 17 and I’d never been in love before. Experiencing that for the first time was the most beautiful thing. We were young, innocent and convinced it was us against the world. We made plans very early on: we were both gonna get a degree, save money, get married, buy a house and have babies. It could not fail. But that’s how you think when you’re young. Your first love is the love of your life and you’re gonna be with them forever. Things took a different turn.

After having been together for 8 months, I got the opportunity to work and live in London for four months. Ever since finishing high school, I wanted to go away from home and live abroad for a little while. After meeting L. the summer after graduating, I put those plans aside. When I eventually did get the opportunity to go to London, I was very much in doubt. After what I thought were open and honest conversations with L., we decided I should do it. We both agreed it was gonna be a great opportunity for me to be away from home on my own, experience a different country and make lots of new friends. I remember being impressed with his maturity. So on April 25th, I left. My parents drove me to London. We took the ferry from Dunkerque. I felt on top of the world. The white cliffs of Dover slowly coming closer represented a new adventure.

Later that day, as we entered my new accommodation, A. came walking down the stairs. He introduced himself to me and my parents. He seemed friendly and polite. He even offered to help unload my luggage and carry it up the stairs to my room, which was two doors down from his. I remember he was chatting to my mum, asking if it was difficult for her to see me leave home. Thinking back to this moment still makes me sick.

My parents left London two days later. I was very excited to start my new job and going out in London every weekend. I was missing L. and he was missing me. We Facetimed every day. But I was having the best time. I really enjoyed the job, even though it was just cleaning. I was part of a great team. All of us were from different countries. Most of us to were here to improve our English and have an experience working abroad. Most on the team were Italian, some were from England. A. was from Brazil. We shared this big house, where we each had our own room and shared a communal lounge, kitchen and two bathrooms. We would all work 9 to 5 shifts Monday to Friday. We’d spend time together after work and on the weekends. I got really close to a few people. A. was one of them. We got to know each other better. He was born in Farroupilha, a little town near São Paulo. For the last 11 years, ever since he turned 18, he’d been travelling the world and living in various places, wherever he could get a job. He was a very skilled guitar player and singer. He particularly liked old Brazilian folk songs. He often would get the guitar out and play me songs, but only in private in his room, he said he was very shy about it. I remember the first time he played me ‘Sampa’ by Caetano Veloso. I’d never heard a more beautiful song and the melody haunts me still. He played it so often, that I still know all the words to this day. He took me out to London a few times, where I met his friends and we’d go out drinking or to concerts. They always joked about how he ‘scored’ an 18-year-old. We both laughed and said we were just friends. I was always very open about my friendship with A. to L. He seemed happy that I made a good friend and never said a bad thing about it.

A few weeks into my stay, there was this one night after work where A. and I were watching an episode of Two and a Half Men in his room. I was tired after work and was happy to just watch some easy television.
All of a sudden, I felt A’s hand on my right thigh. Immediately I was on high alert. What was happening? Did I give him the wrong idea? Did he think I was into him? Was it inappropriate to be in his room in the evening? As all these thoughts were crossing my mind and as I was trying to decide what to do, he turned to face me and kissed me. In utter confusion, I let him. There was even a moment where I thought I enjoyed it. Those thoughts were immediately washed away when I actually realised what was happening. I pushed him off me and told him that this was wrong and that I didn’t want this. He then tried to convince me that this was what I wanted. That he was gonna make me feel good. “Such a beautiful girl like yourself needs a man like me”, he said, while stroking my face. I told him again that I didn’t want this and that I wanted to leave. I got up from my chair, trying to leave but A. got up and positioned himself between me and the door. He grabbed my shoulders and tried to kiss me again. As I backed away, he hit me in the face, making me fall down on the bed. I completely blacked out by the blow for what felt really long, but in reality must have been about 5 seconds. By the time I recovered, he had taken down my jeans and was forcing himself on me. I tried to get him off of me or to hurt him in some way so that I could get away. But whatever I tried, it didn’t work. He was too strong. And I was too scared.
When you read stories about sexual assault, some victims say that they felt paralysed during their assault or that they don’t remember much about it. I wish that was true for me. I tried to get away with all the power I had in me, but the only effect of that was more aggression from A. In the end I decided to just let it happen to spare myself any more pain. I remember every second in great detail. His rhythmic breathing. His hand on my mouth. His tongue on my body. The little specs of dirt on the wallpaper dancing in front of my eyes. I didn’t scream. I didn’t make any sound. The only thing that was on my mind is that no one could ever see me like this or know about it. After what seemed an eternity, he finished and got off of me. I’ll never forget the grin on his face. As soon as there was enough distance between us, I got up. But my legs were like jelly and I fell to the floor. He laughed. I managed to stand up and pull up my underwear. I stumbled to the door, leaving all my other clothes and left. I was lucky there was no one in the corridor.

I got to my room, locked the door behind me and curled myself up on my bed in foetal position. I must have sat there motionless for over an hour. It felt like there was a power outage in my brain. My batteries had run out. No awareness of time and space. At some point, I managed to get up. There was a big blood stain on the bed where I had been sitting. All of sudden, this immensely strong feeling of fear came over me. I started crying uncontrollably. Only now I felt the stabbing pain in my stomach, the burning sensation in my face and my inner thighs. Never have I felt so scared in my life. What if he was coming back? What if he would tell someone? I was still bleeding. To get to the bathroom, I had to pass A.’s room. I panicked and didn’t know what to do.
There was nothing in me that considered telling someone. All I felt was fear and embarrassment. In the end, I had the courage to walk to the bathroom. I got in the shower and looked at my body properly. I had bruises all over my thighs. There were scratch marks on my breasts. My face was red and swollen. My insides hurt. I scrubbed every inch of my body as hard as I could, until there was no hot water left. I still felt as dirty as before. I managed to get back to my room without being seen by anybody. I locked the door and curled up in bed. I fell asleep instantly.

I woke up a few hours after that, still the middle of the night. For a second, I thought it had all been a dream. But my aching body told me otherwise. I spent the next few hours worrying about having to see A. again at work in the morning. Was he going to pretend nothing happened? Was he gonna try something again? What if someone had seen me leave his room? I suddenly came to the realisation that I might not be able to hide all the marks he left on me. I got up and looked in the mirror. My face, neck and upper part of my chest looked normal. I looked tired and stressed. But no marks. No bruises. I felt relieved. All the visible marks would be hidden under clothes. A few hours later, I got dressed and got ready. As I got to the office where we always started our day, A. was already sitting there. He greeted me with a ‘good morning’ as always. The day went on as it normally did. A. didn’t act any different whatsoever. He was still joking around as always, having fun with everybody. Since then, I stayed away from him as much as I could. He didn’t try anything else. About a month later, he moved back to Brazil.

Thinking back on it now, it all seemed very carefully planned. The night this happened, the house was almost completely abandoned, the majority of the team had gone out for a drink. There were no marks on me that anyone could see. He had hit me in the face, hard enough for me to fall over and for him to overpower me, but with a flat hand so it wouldn’t turn into a bruise. He didn’t do anything severe to my neck and upper chest. By acting normal afterwards, he made me feel confused and ashamed. He didn’t acknowledge in any way that it happened. There were moments I questioned my own memories.

The month between the assault and A. leaving the country was hell. I was convinced that telling somebody was the worst possible idea. People might not believe me. A. might try something again. I tried to push it out of my mind. I did my job, but I locked myself in my room for the rest of the time. I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone. I tried so hard to not feel anything. But of course that’s not how it works. People started noticing I looked unwell and that I was absent. I told them that I was just missing home and that I was fine. I learned quickly how to put on a happy face and avoid questions about my wellbeing. I still had contact with L. every single day. He never noticed a thing. I tried to tell him but I just couldn’t. I was ruled by an overwhelming sense of insecurity and guilt. Was I really sure A. knew it wasn’t consensual? Maybe he thought it was a game. Did I give off signals that I was into him? Or did I wear clothes that were too revealing? In the rare moments that I was fully aware that I was raped, I felt guilty and ashamed. I couldn’t bring up a single encouraging thought. Don’t act like the victim so much. At least you weren’t gangraped. At least you’re still alive. There are worse stories out there. It was just the one time. Why can’t you just move on?

Right after the assault, there was a job opening in the team. It was summer and L. was home from university. I need him here, I thought. I have to tell him face to face. I need someone to talk to about this. So I put him forward for the position and two weeks later, he was in London with me. I remember very clearly the moment A. and L. shook hands. They got on very well. L. did wonder why I didn’t spend as much time with A. as before. I don’t remember the excuse I gave.

Five days after L. arrived, A. left England permanently. The relief was huge. I was safe. I had managed to avoid being intimate with L. ever since he arrived by pretending I was unwell. But I realised I couldn’t keep that up much longer. The day after A. left, I sat L. down and told him everything. I found it incredibly difficult and shameful. L. was silent for a long time. Then he said: “So you had sex with another man?” Looking back, that was the moment I lost him. L. was unable to see what had happened to me, he only could focus on the fact that I had sex with someone else. I was confused, angry. I tried to explain to him that it was not consensual, that I never wanted it. I also told him about the moment at the very start where it felt nice and where I thought I wanted it. He would use this against me at various moments in the future. I tried to explain that that moment was very brief and changed into resistance. He couldn’t comprehend it. I had taken pictures of my body after the assault. He refused to look at them. “They must be fake anyway.”

We argued for weeks. He felt like I’d cheated on him. We’d spend hours on end talking about our broken trust, my betrayal and how I ruined our future. I was desperate not to lose him. I was still so in love. And without him, who was I? What would I do? What was supposed to be an amazing summer abroad, turned into the darkest time of my life. He slowly started to convince me that I in fact cheated on him and that I was the reason for all the problems we were now having. And in a way, it created a more bearable reality for me. We tell ourselves stories so we can cope with what we don’t want to remember. And I think at that time, subconsciously, I would rather be the girlfriend that cheated, than the girl that was raped.

I made it my goal to right my wrongs and earn his forgiveness. I pushed away the physical and mental pain I was feeling and put all my energy into being a good girlfriend. I managed to do that for over four years. I would do anything to make him happy. Never complained. L. felt that he was entitled to sit back and let me do all the work. In our relationship, as well as in the more practical affairs. I was always working, earning all the money. We were both in college but L. never worked. He liked to spend the day in bed playing video games on his PlayStation. I was paying his tuition, his travel and his food. When we decided to move in together, I paid the rent. I cleaned the house, did the shopping, cooked our dinners, did the laundry. If on occasion I asked him to do something, he’d do it reluctantly. I’d surprise him with romantic dinners, going away for the weekend, parties. I gave him the most expensive and creative gifts for his birthday and our anniversary. I never received any gift from him since that summer in 2012.

Our physical relationship changed too. We didn’t sleep together for a long time after I had told L. what happened. He said I felt dirty to him. He said he would decide whenever he’d be ready for us to be intimate again. About a month after I told him, he came into my room one night. He took off his robe and was completely naked. It felt like a consummation of an arranged marriage in medieval times. I didn’t want to sleep with him. But I felt like I had no choice. He told me he was ready and that after this moment, we’d be whole again. So I had sex with him. I had sex with him to prove that I was worthy of his love. I had sex with him to show him I’d do anything for him. To keep him with me. It was traumatising. But I didn’t say a word. Afterwards, he held me in his arms and told me that he loved me. I couldn’t be happier to hear those words.

The dynamics of our intimacy changed as well. L. became interested in BDSM. He introduced me to various new ways of pleasure, some that I never even knew existed. I enjoyed some of them. Most of them I didn’t like. It usually entailed L. being dominant over me. He liked to inflict pain on me. I tried to convince myself that I liked it too. I was proud of our broad sexual interest and experience. But I came to realise it was empty and meaningless. Sex between two loving people is supposed to be about trust and love. This was a game of power and pain.

I became aware over the years that the balance in our relationship was completely wrong. But I felt I had no right to address it. On the few occasions I did try to talk to L. about his lack of contribution and effort, he got angry and always responded the same way: that he still felt that I hadn’t made up for what I did. And I believed him. Instead of telling him where he could stick it, I started trying to do even better. I convinced myself that he was just trying to help me be a better person. I actually think I got worse at things because of the anxiety constantly being told I wasn’t good enough.
Things started to get worse as the years progressed. I was doing very intense internships and I was running our entire household at the same time. L. had forced me to tell some of my friends and family members, even my parents, that I had willingly kissed another man. The fact that I have had sex with someone else always remained between us, as we are both from strict religious families and we agreed it was best nobody knew that we were sleeping together before marriage. L. also decided I was not allowed to have interactions with any male that was not family. Without my knowledge, L. told his brother and sister and most of his friends that I had cheated on him. I spend months wondering why people treated me differently. L. started to spend a lot of money on gambling, creating huge credit cards debts. He lied to me about it and tried to cover up the bills. I had to get a student loan to keep the debt collectors away. L. would often go out at night, sometimes I joined him but most days I was too tired. Sometimes he wouldn’t come home until 4am, not answering his phone, not telling me where he had been. Sex had become a regimental and often unpleasant obligation. I found folders on his laptop and phone, full of pornographic material, often disturbing. And I’m not squeamish. There were comments about my weight and eating habits. He’d ask me if I wanted anything from the supermarket and if I responded by asking for a treat, he’d say, “Do you need that, though?”. One day as I was changing, I recall him looking at my semi-naked body and making a strange face. “What?” I asked him. “Your stomach sticks out.” he said. “You should work out more.” It was my birthday.

Whenever I’d bring up anything he’d done that hurt me, I was told it was my fault because I was too emotional, too sensitive and that I had no right to complain about it in any case. Mentioning my feelings was met with a shut down.

So why did I stay? Because I was convinced I made a terrible mistake and I had to make up for it. I felt there was no way out. I can’t even explain how wonderful the first 8 months of our relationship had been and I clung to it like a life raft. Being with him at the start felt like nothing else in my life, and I kept thinking we’d get back to there. That if I could just do better, and be who he wanted me to be, that we could be okay again. I had no idea that what was happening in our relationship was emotional abuse. My self-esteem was so wrecked that I blamed myself when he was having a bad mood. There were many other signifiers I missed because I was desperately hopeful for a happy ending: lack of empathy, dissing my capabilities in front of friends, never apologising, making judgements when I spent money.

And then one day, in December 2016, I felt I had enough. I can’t explain how or why that day. It was suddenly clearer than ever. I wasn’t gonna take this any longer. I packed a bag and left. I went to my parents house, telling them we weren’t doing so great. I told them about the money and household situation. They were shocked, as they were totally unaware about any of it. L. begged me to come back, told me he missed me, that he couldn’t live without me. He even apologised for “not appreciating” me the way he should have. But this time, I was not gonna cave. Whatever I did, it was never gonna be good enough. And I finally had the balls to do something about it.

It took me over two weeks and lots of talking with friends and family, to indefinitely decide that I had to break up with L. It was anything but easy. I came back to the apartment at the start of January to pick up some fresh clothes and school books. L. was at home and seemed drunk. He attacked me, hitting me on my chest and shoulder. I was able to get away without too much damage. My dad was at that moment waiting in the car downstairs. I never told him what happened. I knew that if I told him L. put his hands on me, my dad would have gone up and beat him to pieces. I got in the car and we drove home. Only to discover at home that I was again covered in marks. The one on my back still there after almost two years. A few days later, I decided today was the day to break up with L. Although he said he hadn’t seen it coming, it was an unexpected peaceful occasion. I felt an incredible sense of freedom afterwards. But I also felt a broken human with crippling self-doubt. I had been hiding my own pain and discomfort for years, always walking on eggshells, monitoring my behaviour to ensure I kept L. happy. All of this was finally over. It was time for a new beginning.

Now, in September 2018, it has been six years and four months since I was raped and one year and nine months since I broke up with L. I have been through many stages in that time. The biggest struggle has been letting go of my old life and allow myself to feel. Just feel. And if you haven’t felt anything for five years, letting your heart connect to your brain is f*cking scary. I made a few discoveries.

I have realised that my only crime through this entire situation, has been caring too much. About everything but myself. During my relationship with L., my natural joy became distorted beyond recognition. My existence solely dedicated to making his life more comfortable. By not acknowledging what really happened to me, L. made me a prisoner in my own body. He still hasn’t acknowledged the truth till this day. And he probably never will. Allowing myself to accept what had really happened to me was a mentally painful process. It was like going back to the beginning. I was scared to be alone at night. I couldn’t sleep without having a light on. I didn’t want anyone to touch me. I had frequent nightmares reliving the rape. Panic attacks. All of these things extremely unpleasant and tiring. But in a way, it comforts me that these emotions are finally coming out. After five years of hiding it away, it feels like I’m on the right path.

September 2018. I feel like I’ve found my place in the world. I’m still learning to give my traumas a place in my life. I’m still figuring out what defines me. I’m often scared. I have nightmares. I go to a place where no one can reach me. I can’t imagine this recovering process to ever cease. But. I know who I am. I know my value. I try to live life with a new appreciation and attitude. I have found a decent man with a loving and kind soul, who loves me for who I am, despite my past and my flaws. I’m never judged or made to feel ashamed. He loves me and celebrates me. And in return, I am capable of loving him, without pressure or expectations. I’m happy, safe and free.
You are very articulate and show a great deal of intelligence and integrity.
Welcome to where we can healthily and safely get this hurtful stuff off our chests and peer support each other!
You've made a formidable start. I can relate to parts of your story, as, I'm sure many of us here, do, and would.
I'm rooting for you @h1993, in finding relief and a sense of personal power and healing from sharing your story.
Welcome to this part of the world wide web! I'm glad you are here with us, sharing your reclaiming yourself,
re-covery journey.
I can relate to your feeling of guilt and blame. Questioning if you "asked for it" or even if it really happened...I'm with you girl. I can tell you are strong and your story is far from over, thanks for sharing