Acknowledging my assault, that has a relatively happy ending. Trigger warning: sexual and emotional abuse. Please, no mainpaging.
So I've been wanting to write this story for awhile, but kept telling myself it wouldn't do me much good to rehash it again. I think there may be some value in me laying it all out now though, since it's been nearly a year and a half since these events took place.
Around the beginning of 2012, a few key things happened in my life: I started living alone for the first time, I began seeing a therapist on a weekly basis, and I started online dating. Little did I know how these three events would come together and force me to deal with something I had been shoving down and refusing to acknowledge for a few years: I was sexually assaulted by a boyfriend I had in college, and really had told no one.
Basically, I had convinced myself that although the events that had taken place were clearly nonconsensual on my end, I had no right to speak up about it, since: 1. it had been at the hands of someone I'd been dating up until that point, (and had also known for several years before that) and 2. I'd had alcoholic beverages the evening that it took place. It wasn't until I began learning about rape culture through reading sites like Jezebel and Feministing that I started to come to terms with what happened.
My therapist and I started to work through it during session, in a roundabout way, because at that point, I still couldn't bring myself to say the words "I was raped" out loud. I told my therapist instead about my repeated issues with trusting men and seeking out abusive partners, and we zeroed in on that. Working through all of that was incredibly intense. PTSD symptoms started surfacing. I couldn't sleep through the night, I was having crying spells at work, and my anxiety was out of control, but I was determined to make it through all of this without the use of medication.
Once we had made some progress over a few months, I began to put myself out there in the dating sense. I quickly met a man on EHarmony who I got really interested in really fast, then was devastated when he pulled away. It seemed like we had a great connection, but he wasn't ready to be exclusive after two months of dating (but no sex.) He claimed that he still hadn't moved past his separation from his last ex and decided he needed to be alone, and I was pretty intensely heartbroken. This was the first guy I'd had feelings for in years, and it was so disappointing when it didn't work out.
I walked into my next therapy session feeling completely despondent, and ready to throw in the towel on love, or at least lock myself away from the concept of dating for a long, long time, as I had done before. She convinced me to try a different approach- stay on the dating site, but go forward with the intention of only trying to get acclimated to being around men, and the idea of dating itself. Make it fun, keep it light, she said. No intense feelings, no hanging all of your hopes and dreams on one person.
So, I did just that, and for a few months, it was pretty fun. I was feeling way more confident and more comfortable with myself, and men were starting to seem more approachable. I wasn't constantly in knots over whether or not someone called me back, I was just along for the ride. That was until I met Kevin.
Kevin was a semi-professional classical musician and private lesson teacher who'd been educated at one of the best private music conservatories in the country, and then at an Ivy League school postgrad. He subbed for local symphonies, and had played music all over the world. In so many ways, he was absolutely, 100% not my type on paper. He was arrogant, aloof, from a wealthy background, and always decked out head to toe in pastel J. Crew or designer clothing, whereas my family is quite poor, and I've had a rock and roll aesthetic to my look for as long as I can remember. But, my background was in classical music also, and that's what drew me in initially. I studied voice in college, but dropped out after the assault took place. I have to be honest and admit that his illustrious educational background was something I was taken by as well. I'd never met anybody who was lucky enough to attend the finest school available.
Our first date, I remembered thinking that he came across as pretty self-involved, but I was still sort of enthralled by him. We spent the evening at a local brewpub, then got tacos and drank tequila, then ended things at an Irish bar I liked. I drank too much that night, spurned on by my nervous feelings. From the very start, I was worried about disappointing him, and had convinced myself he was so much better than me- he was an Ivy Leaguer, and I was a college dropout. He seemed fairly detached until one of our last moments at the pub. Liquid courage helped me gaze directly into his eyes, and he dropped whatever he'd been talking about to say "You have incredibly beautiful eyes." in the same sort of deadpan tone he'd been using all night.
We got back to his car, and before I got out, we both admitted that we'd had fun. Instead of making a move, he stayed in his seat and said "So. Are you going to kiss me or what?" And I did, and the feeling was intense. Our second date, he went with me to a concert, and that night, despite my quiet fears that it was too soon, we slept together. I remember feeling so empowered in that moment, to actively choose, to give an enthusiastic "yes!" of consent, and I was ecstatic to have feelings of physical desire after literally years of crippling fear and no libido to speak of. It really opened the floodgates in a way, as I had spent so long avoiding it, and now felt free to express myself. I felt young and desirable. I was excited. We could barely keep our hands off of each other. Yet, the emotional aspect of our relationship became a source of real pain for me.
Sex, for whatever reason, was easier for me to move into than the task of explaining my past hurts, and what had happened to me in college. Kevin called me drunk one night, within our first week of dating, asking me to come over. I declined, as I'd barely slept the night before. He turned the tabled and demanded, in a frustrated tone, to know why I was so guarded emotionally around him, and why I wouldn't let him in more or give him more of my time when we had already slept together. Instead of taking this as a red flag, I turned it in on myself, and started apologizing. It's me. I'm too hurt, I'm too fucked up. I'm damaged goods and acting weird as a result. He's not going to like me anymore if I tell him what happened. I couldn't see it for what it was at the time, a manipulation tactic to get me to open up and be vulnerable to him, so he could become more controlling. I told all of this to my therapist, but sort of glossed over parts of it. Her advice to me was that the only way I could truly know if he was trustworthy or not was to take a risk and tell him.
The next night I went to his apartment, and told him everything that had been keeping me bogged down for years. I completely tore myself open- I told him about my father's death from drug overdose, my mom's lack of presence in my life, losing my aunt (who was my surrogate mom) to HIV when I was 9, the abusive boyfriends I'd had, the rape. I cried. He still seemed aloof and somewhat distant, but said he was glad I had told him. He told me then his own mother had died from cancer when he was 10, and that he understood all of the time I'd had to spend in hospitals as a kid as a result. I felt terrified that I'd let myself be so raw, yet relieved. I'd never told anybody that much about myself in such a short period of time. That night, we made love to string arrangements of Bach, and the emotions from our physical intimacy, the music in the background, and all that I had just told him hit me like a tidal wave, over and over and over again.
I wish that I could have stayed in that place, where I felt vulnerable but so caught in the moment, but Kevin's intentions weren't exactly pure when it came to me being so open with him. He picked up on the fact that I felt so unworthy, and started using it against me. He insisted that I drive us everywhere, frequently to Dallas, even though I lived 40 minutes from him, and driving us anywhere south meant I had to double back. I either called him too much, or not enough. I mentioned seeing a shirt at the mall I thought he'd look good in, he was annoyed when I showed up at his place the next day without buying it for him. He made comments about my perceived wealth, or lack there of ("I could tell you were poor when you said you work out at 24 Hour Fitness instead of a nicer club.") He was infuriated that I hadn't split the check with him on our first few dates, and waited until weeks later to let me know all of this, despite his initial insistence to pay for everything. He was making well over six figures while I earned a modest hourly wage working at a doctor's office. He frequently shamed me, in a passive aggressive way, about not finishing college, and started talking openly about sex he used to have with his ex girlfriend, even making a comment at once that he "thought I'd be crazier" or open to more in bed because I'm a "tattooed rocker type girl." And I just kept my mouth shut. I kept talking myself out of saying anything, or standing up for myself. The feelings of vulnerability kept me tied up inside and I stopped trusting my gut instinct, which was screaming at me THIS IS NOT A GOOD PERSON FOR YOU TO BE AROUND. And honestly, I didn't tell my therapist about this in much detail at all. I edited the stories in a way that continued to reflect me not being good enough for him and needing to work harder. I was hooked in.
It built up inside of me, though, and some tiny part of me knew how fucked up our situation had become. I eventually I started to use my voice and speak out. I let my therapist in more on what had been going on. One night, it all came to a head, after he'd ignored me for a week then demanded to know why I hadn't tried harder to call him, before inviting me over. I showed up to his apartment, and despite the frustration he'd spewed on the phone, he was all honey and roses was I was actually there. He told me how much he had missed me, because he had been working such long hours, called me his "porcelain doll" and rubbed my shoulders for a long time. He'd even made me a snack, and bought some of my favorite beer, and we slept together.
Except this time, he had trouble performing. Bout of ED from the stress, the beer, or whatever else, and when he was able to work it out, he finished quickly. The only reason I mention this, is for what came after. I told him it was okay, stroked his hair, asked him to hold me instead. He was clearly embarrassed, and started to apologize before changing his mind at snapping at me, out of his own feelings of inadequacy. I don't remember exactly what happened after, except that it involved him shaming me for wanting to be held after sex. I even tried explaining how it helped me feel grounded after physical intimacy if negative emotions started to well up. His response was that I just needed to get over it, because no other man would want to put up with me and all of my issues the way that he had.
I was stunned. This was the moment when I finally snapped out of it. He fell asleep immediately after, and I laid there in silence, stewing, furious, disgusted. I woke up the next morning and silently got dressed and left. We broke up on the phone two days later. I finally told my therapist everything I'd held back from her and she was shocked- I had portrayed Kevin in such a different light.
A few weeks passed and he called me, looking for a belt he had left at my house weeks before. I told him coldly that I had thrown it in the dumpster, because I never wanted to see him again, and wanted him to know it. He gave me a sarcastic "well, THANKS" before hanging up on me, then called me right back and demanded to know what he had done so wrong for me to dispose of something that belonged to him. So, I told him, and he begrudgingly apologized for the "no one will ever want you" remark, before saying "I guess I'll talk to you...well, never again" and hung up. He drunk texted me a few days later with a cruel, crude joke "I have no belt. What do I use for autoerotic asphyxiation now? Thanks a lot." That was the last I heard from him.
I can't believe I just spelled all of that out. If you made it to the end of this, thank you for reading. As shitty as this situation was in a lot of ways, I'm still grateful for it. I gained some more grit from it. I let go of the lie that I told myself after my assault, that if I ever got hurt by a man again, I would crumble into nothingness. Well, that's what happened here, but I came out the other side stronger, and far less willing to accept bad behavior. I did also rediscover sensuality in a way, and know that I can engage in it safely when the time is right instead of being so afraid. And ultimately, this has become a story about me learning to trust myself. Those tiny voices I heard when Kevin and I first met, imploring me to stay away, were my own self interests trying to keep me from harm. I hear those voices now and I pay attention to them, and it's a relief to be able to say that.
I love you, GT!