***TW/CW (Trigger Warning/Content Warning): For descriptions of abuse including violence, humiliation, molestation and rape***
Yesterday I briefly mentioned the abuse I survived years ago. I glossed over much of it and wasn’t wanting that to be the focus of the post itself as I was trying to explain anxiety and the current struggle I’m having with moving back to my hometown. Let me first say that anxiety is not something one can control. We can manage our stress, try to care for ourselves and recognize the precursors or triggers and avoid them as much as possible, but in the end it really is in our heads and that’s that. Intellectually I know this to be so. I don’t fear a person, nor do I think what I have survived could happen to me again. But in the moment, when I’ve been triggered, there’s no connecting to the intellectual. Even if I tell myself, “It’s in your head. You’re okay.” it doesn’t slow my heart rate. It doesn’t stop the feeling of terror growing/rising inside me. This is the hell that is anxiety. My hometown is basically a giant minefield of triggers.
I know I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I have suffered the symptoms for years, but had reached a point in my life where it was really rare to have symptoms arise. There were years where I would wake up in the middle of the night and not know where I was or who was next to me in bed. I would stare at my husband’s face for ages just to be sure it was really him. Over time that went away. Stability is a hell of a healer! I stopped having the chasing dreams where I would be running through an endless labyrinth desperately trying to get away from my abuser, but that took a few more years. Much of what I’d survived I’d willfully forgotten or compartmentalized in order to continue functioning. I never received or sought out therapy. When I escaped my abuser, I was just 19 years old. I wish I had had therapy then. Living in my hometown has brought it all back up to the surface again. This was unexpected and is proving to be one of the most difficult things for me to get though…on my own.
I share my story because I feel I must. I do not seek pity, sympathy or charity. I just need to get some of this off my chest, as it were. I do not need reassurance or advice. I have so much to be grateful for, I am a very lucky gal, lemme tell ya! There are things I haven’t told anyone, things I have forgotten or wanted to, things that I hide even from myself. I want to share these things so that others may understand or see that life does go on and that love and joy can be found. I do have those, I am happy in my life, but I have a lot of other shit “running in the background” if you wanna get technical about it. Ha-ha! Living alone for the first time ever, moving back to a place I thought I’d left behind, being out of work once again and uncertain of where my next job will be. I’m living here by nothing short of a miracle! I am beyond grateful for that! I just didn’t know the challenges I would face once here.
***Below I describe the years of abuse I endured and in some detail what that looked and felt like.***
What I endured for five years of some of the most developmental years of a young person’s life is difficult for most to hear. It took me years to admit it to myself. Even now, that I think it’s easier to share my story, it’s the details I struggle with but not due to a lack of memory. It’s usually other people’s reactions to what happened or my too blunt way of retelling it. So I learned to gloss over the details the way I quickly learned how to act when my abuser forced me into situations through threats, violence and worse. The fact that I’m alive today is a fucking miracle! I cannot reiterate that part enough. I survived multiple attempts on my life by my abuser. Many times I wished he’d succeeded. I wanted it to be over. I fantasized escaping every moment of those five years. I was a hostage in my own home. He threatened to kill my family and would regularly describe in great detail how he’d do it, he had it all planned out. I was trapped. Even to this day, 18 years later, not a moment passes where I don’t have at least two separate escape routes for any venue or situation I find myself in. Some things can’t be unlearned. I have some paranoia, mostly healthy I think.
When he first started to beat me it followed the old cliche cycle of violence followed by apologies and gifts. The third time it happened I called the police. It was the summer before I would have entered the tenth grade. It was hot and I’d tried to break up with him. He grabbed me by the hair and dragged me down the hallway into my bedroom. He punched me in the back so hard it knocked the wind out of me and hit my face enough to split my lip. “Finally!” I thought…”Proof!” So I locked myself in the bathroom and called the police. They showed up and laughed at me. They didn’t believe me for a second. They stood around cracking jokes with my abuser as he offered them beers and shook hands and patted backs as they left. It was at that point I knew there would be no escape.
This was my family home, mind you. My dad was at work, the kids at daycare or school or grandma’s. My mother had left us the year before. I was home alone a lot back then, my freshman year of high school was spent chasing and kissing boys, hanging out with “the wrong crowd” and discovering myself. I met my abuser through a frenemy, I don’t know why I took that call, but I did. She set us up. Did I mention that I was boy crazy?! I thought he was cool at first, said all the right things, but wasn’t so taken by it all. He was 21, I was 14. My bff at the time liked this arrangement as he could score us pot and alcohol, the teenage dream! Ha-ha! No one saw anything wrong with this relationship. No one told me to leave him or to even be suspicious. That first summer with him was a nightmare I couldn’t shake. After that shit with the cops I knew that was it, I was done for.
That first August as the impending school year drew ever closer, his violence against me worsened. I know now that he was afraid, but he insisted it was what I wanted, to drop out of high school. I hated high school, so I didn’t put up much of a fight. With one caveat; that I could join the independent studies program instead. He relented, even when my school counselor said it didn’t exist (it did). I actually had to fight to get into it and ended up dropping out two years later due to the fuckery of it all. He also convinced me to threaten my dad with running away forever if he didn’t let my abuser move in with us. In our family home. With my little brother and sister. My dad felt he couldn’t argue with that ultimatum and really didn’t fight it. I’m certain he didn’t like it, but later he made friends with him and they even worked together for a spell. To this day I do not think that my dad had any idea what I went through. I’ve only in the last year or so admit it to my siblings. They were clueless. I always made excuses for my dad, his wife had left him only a year before and things were hard all around. Part of me hates my dad for not protecting me, for not seeing what was going on. But I know what sort of teenager I was, how good of an act I put on and how helpless I’m sure my dad felt at the time. Ugh!
The first time I knew my abuser was really trying to kill me was on the kitchen floor. We’d had some inane fight about some made up bullshit. It didn’t matter, he was an alcoholic and a painkiller abuser. He had legitimate health problems, but his substance abuse only made them worse and so a vicious cycle was born (or had been there previously, as I was not the first 14 year old he’d shacked up with, but I didn’t know that until later). He would often grab me by the arm to take me to another room, during a fight it was hard and often left a mark. I was probably about a size 16. He would punch my stomach all of the time. He would say horrible things to me about my body that I choose not to repeat now. This particular incident was one of the absolute worst. He hit me so hard I fell to the ground. He wasted no time jumping on top of me and started to strangle me. I know what it feels like to lose consciousness from being strangled. And it’s a lot harder to kill someone this way than you might think. It’s a lot harder to fight back, too. When my vision tunneled and I felt my limbs weaken against my will I realized it was the end and I welcomed it wholly.
When I regained consciousness he was beside me crying (he did that a lot), apologizing, saying it was a mistake, he blamed his meds and everything and everyone else. He said he’d get help. It was at this moment that I believe I started to leave my body to insulate myself from the violence. It was then that I learned to act, for him and for others. I could make anyone believe that I was madly in love with this sociopath, because I had to. He would wake me up in the night with a knife to my throat or a gun to my head, drunk as hell with froth flying out of his mouth full of threats. I learned to get used to it. I’d already had insomnia since I was twelve, so I would sometimes fuck with him to see who would fall asleep first. I’d hoped to kill him or tie him up or drug him but I never could bring myself to do it. It was at this time that I began to invest in lush fantasies of being saved by an ex-boyfriend.
My abuser would often take me places in public, bars mostly but sometimes pizza parlors or wherever had food and beer, always beer. (I still can’t stand the smell of beer and have only ever tasted the stuff once in my life. It’s very triggering!) He would force me to say or do things I didn’t want to with the threat of violence and humiliation. He once forced me to go down on him in front of friends. Several times he forced me to pee my pants in public and then walk home in soaked pants. He would humiliate me often, but not in ways you might expect. His favorite thing to do was to publicly propose marriage in order to get people to buy him drinks, I was underage after all. I always said no, always. But I wouldn’t always say no loud enough for folks to hear, bars being noisy places, and it was his positive reaction they would applaud and cheer for. I would die inside each time. He made me wear a ring that turned my finger green, developed a rash and then just got gross. So he bought me a legit one. I hated it and him, obviously. I once tried to pawn it but they only offered me $7. I keep it as a reminder.
He couldn’t drive because of his health issues, so we walked everywhere. This sucked! It means not knowing where I could use a restroom and would get punished if I had to go too much. He would take me to his mother’s apartment building and rape me in her storage locker. He once locked me in that fucking storage locker for three hours. I was too scared to scream or cry out, fearing he was waiting for just such an offence (in his eyes, obv). His mother often took pity on me, telling me how I deserved better and that she knew her son wasn’t “right”. She was definitely suffering from bi-polar disorder herself. Sometimes she would be so cruel to me, especially about my body, telling me that maybe I did deserve a loser like her son.
When my parents finally divorced, my bio-mom sued for full custody of me and my siblings. My abuser ceased the opportunity with flimsy logic and convenient know-how. He insisted that if I were to get legally emancipated that if she got custody I could somehow intervene and gain custody myself, thus protecting them and my dad from losing them. I was working nearly full time at age 16 and had just gotten my first car (my dad gave me his ’76 Dodge Dart, I loved that car and miss working on it even now). That car meant freedom! It scared the shit out of my abuser. I spent two days on the streets of San Francisco trying to track down my willfully homeless bio-mom in order to get her to sign my emancipation papers. In the end it proved futile and unnecessary as I was able to get emancipated by proving my income and bio-mom didn’t even show up for her custody date (she suffered/suffers from her own mental illness/es). This also meant that the constant threat of getting arrested for being with a minor was gone and my abuser made that extra clear to any and all who would listen. When I called the cops again due to his beating me up they accused me of buying my emancipation papers and threatened to take me in on fraud. I don’t like the police.
My abuser befriended a few of my ex-boyfriends or male friends at the time (my female friends stopped talking to me after he forced me to drop out of high school). He would manipulate them into giving us rides places or buying drugs or whatever. I tried to not know too much, if ya know what I mean. He’d run all kinds of scams from raffle tickets to fake pills, all in the name of money “for us to get our own place, my love.” *BARFS* It’s true though, he kept a small wooden box in the closet that he’d put cash into every night. He’d make me count it in front of him every morning, naked. Sometimes he’d rape me and say it came up short. I’d later find bills in random pants pockets in his dirty laundry. His drug and alcohol abuse was nearing it’s peak at this time. He made me sell the diamond earrings my dad gave me the first Christmas after my mom left. That still hurts. He also returned most of my sibling’s Disney movies (remember the old clamshell VHS boxes?) for a refund to spend on more beer and drugs. My dad never seemed to notice anything was wrong…ever.
I remember one really bad knock-down, drag-out fight where I literally picked him up off the ground and slammed his back across my knee. He was terrified. I was terrified. He accused me of abuse and attempted murder, said I was trying to paralyze him and that he’d call the cops on me. I laughed! I laughed so fucking hard! He sobbed and pleaded with me to stay with him, to not kill him. He got snot and tears all over my hands and face with his pleading. It was at this point I felt dead inside. I think I’d been with him three years by then. That feeling of power and superiority didn’t last, but it did stop the beatings and rape for awhile. Other manipulations continued. He forced me to cook, clean, degrade myself for his pleasure and act out sick fantasies. He often tried to get me to drink or do drugs, but I never did. I would occasionally smoke pot, but only with his permission and often with the excuse of “I can’t sleep” but I know it was for the pain.
My job improved my self esteem, but only slightly as there was a bit of a mean girl thing happening there. Ugh! They did give me a gift in actively hating my abuser. Enough so that he never showed up at my job! Small victories can feel huge! I tried to spend more time with my family at my grandma’s house. My grandfather was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease and someone always had to be with him. My abuser occasionally accompanied me, but only if the rest of the family wasn’t there. He would show my grandpa Metallica concert videos and point out and pause when topless women were on-screen. He insisted it helped my grandpa. When my grandpa died I was with my abuser and bff at a shopping center, my dad paged me (remember pagers?!) and then asked that I give the phone to my abuser who then had to relay the news to me. I don’t think I truly grieved my grandpa’s passing, but I did use the occasion to get a reprieve from the rape and violence for a week or so.
When we moved out of my dad’s house into a house-share situation with my abuser’s best friend and that friend’s grandma, shit got worse. He put a lock on the outside of the bedroom door. He would restrict my food, my phone access and even bathroom access. It was at this time I fell in love with Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I’d never enjoyed reading before, mostly because my bio-mom would sit in her room all day everyday reading, while I tended to my siblings. When he’d leave me locked in that room for hours on end, I could pick up the Vampire Lestat and feel as though I was somewhere else entirely. When the best friend’s grandma asked questions about me she was quickly put in her place by the other two. They made her question her sanity and insisted she do as they say. His best friend meant well, but I don’t think he was “all there” either, since he looked up to such a terrible person. When my first ever boyfriend rented out the converted garage I thought perhaps he’d see what was happening and I would be saved. Nope. He was too lost in drugs and his girlfriend. Oh well.
The last summer I lived in my hometown, I spent a lot of time with my bff “Q” and my Dodge Dart. My abuser was running a bunch of scams and drug deals and wanted me out of his hair, so he gave me a bit of freedom and around $10 per day. “Q” was the only person who never stopped talking to me. That summer we spent nearly everyday getting a #1 meal at Taco Bell, pouring over Rolling Stone in parks with our Marlboro Lights and heavy crushes on all those grunge dudes back then. It felt amazing! We swore we’d both be buried in that car. Then it died and I got an ugly ’81 Mustang. When that died soon after, I got an ’89 Ford Escort, I loved that car! It saved my life more times than I can count! My abuser spent less and less time worrying about me and off doing his scams with his friend. I started to drop hints to the grandma that things weren’t on the level. I would wait for my abuser to fall asleep (pass out, really) and would stay up all night plotting and sometimes talking with “Q” when she was away at college.
A week before my 19th birthday I was driving on the freeway back to the house when my abuser grabbed the steering wheel and tried to crash the car. I elbowed his face and regained control just in time to avoid a nasty collision with an underpass pillar! It was terrifying, but also, I realized something in that moment. It felt like the end was near. I didn’t know if it would be my end or his, but I knew something was shifting. It felt like one of us had to die for it to be truly over. Luckily that wasn’t the case. I went to my grandma’s for dinner as often as I could both for family and good food but also for access to the internet and email. I emailed “Q” all of the time and started chatting in chat rooms. I made a friend in Canada who liked the same music as I did.
I had worked for years but soon found it impossible to get a job. When I found out that my abuser was telling prospective employers I was dead I knew something had to give. Fortunately, two days before my 19th birthday, I was at home doing next to nothing when an ex-boyfriend’s little brother stopped by the house to drop something off for the grandma (he was married to her daughter). He knew me and wanted to catch up. We chatted a bit and then my abuser stopped by the house to change clothes, checked on me and then left again. It was at this point that Marc (ex-boyfriend’s little brother) said to me, “Look, I don’t know exactly what’s going on but if you need a place to stay, I have an extra room and you wouldn’t have to pay rent. Think about it. Here’s my number. Let me know.” I grabbed his wrist and said, “Yes!” I’d never heard of the town just twenty miles south of there, but it didn’t matter. It was freedom!
The timeline at this point gets a bit blurry. I know I packed my belongings in secret at first but at some point my abuser knew or found out and helped? I’m not entirely sure. I think I convinced him that he would move in too, but later? Dunno. I just know that he maybe only spent one night in that apartment. He would call and say he’d be coming over soon but would disappear for a couple of days. I didn’t care! I was happy to have him out of my hair. One time I was driving back to my hometown with him in my car and he grabbed the steering wheel again, this time saying he wouldn’t lose me, that he’d keep me even if it killed us both. I clicked his seat way back, elbowed his face and opened the passenger door. He rarely wore a seat belt, but the Ford Escort had automatic ones, you see, but only across the one shoulder. It took little effort, in that moment of confusion (well, for him) to push his ass out of the car and onto the shoulder of the freeway. I sped away and didn’t look back. I had dinner with my family as though all was fine. I didn’t hear from him except for some threatening messages on my pager for a few days.
I was at the local mall in this new-found town, searching once again for Nine Inch Nails “Further down the spiral” at a Sam Goody. I’d been to many music stores looking for this thing. When I found it there I took it as a sign and asked for an application. I filled it out and turned it in on the spot! They were impressed with my retail experience and I interviewed a few days later with the manager and district manager (that DM stared at my boobs the entire time). I got the job! I was “Third Key” which was management, but it meant an income and eventually, maybe one fine day, freedom! After a couple of weeks working at the music store, my coworkers seemed to like me and asked about my situation. I kept things very vague and simply expressed how happy I was working there. Then one day my abuser showed up at the apartment and beat up my roommates (Marc and a friend who’d been staying “a few nights” but actually never left). All they told him was that I was “At work!” He didn’t know I was working. He called my grandma saying he lost the number to my new job and since she didn’t know anything was wrong (no one did) she gave it to him.
He showed up at my job covered in blood and obviously on a tirade. He spotted me behind the counter instantly. He walked over to me, reached over the counter and grabbed my hair and said, “You’re coming with me you whore!” and I screamed and my coworker screamed at him to leave or he’d call the cops. It just so happened that the manager was in the back room doing payroll on his day off. He was a big guy, he stormed out of the back room and grabbed my abuser by the shirt and held him until security showed up. Four of them held him as he spewed threats and bloody spit all over the place. They banned him from the mall and told him if he ever contacted me again they’d see to it he would never know freedom again. It was unreal and incredible. I don’t think I ever thanked my manager for that day, but you know what? I never saw my abuser again!
When I first realized that I was finally free from my abuser’s clutches, I slowly and tentatively reached out to friends. This was a couple of months later. I started to rebuild those relationships and soon (4-5 months later) wanted to meet boys again. It was a bit of a double edged sword, that part. I’d always been boy crazy, but my abuser took away my self confidence. When I was 14 I was sassy and sexy and felt invincible. I was left stripped of everything except self hatred. I was ceaselessly depressed, actively hated myself and was probably zero fun to be around. It didn’t stop me from getting dates, if you can call them that. It was more just chatting with dudes on Prodigy/AOL and then meeting them. Don’t try this at home, kids! It was very stupid, but I was very lucky to never have had anything terrible happen to me on those “dates”. It was a lot of talk and coercion, to be honest. I wanted to date, but dudes didn’t know how to talk to a girl like me so it became a game of how far they could get with me in one night.
I was molested by my childhood best friend’s family friend at age 7. I’m certain that she suffered more than the one incident that we shared. I never processed that shit and actually forgot it happened for many years. Until boys wanted to finger me, that is. This was how I was molested. I may have forgotten, but my body hadn’t. I became a negotiator, an actor and a survivor again and again. I was trying to find myself and all guys wanted to find was my pussy. Ugh! I wanted to connect with someone on a deeper level, but couldn’t. Again, I was very lucky to have survived many a dangerous situation that I put myself into willingly through these online connections, but I’d just survived what most don’t, so I didn’t think it or I mattered at the time. I was in denial about what I had suffered through. I just acted like I dumped a boyfriend, nothing more. The truth was I was suicidal and since I’d learned to act so well for so long, I just continued to do so, for the world.
I turned to alcohol for awhile. Then my old addiction: Boys. One fell in love with me, sold everything he owned, left his home in Texas and moved in with me. It all happened so fast and I found out rather quickly that all was not what it seemed with him. He was on a lot of meds (anti-psychotics I think, but maybe Prozac too?) that left him impotent, which was just fine with me since I found out the hard was that he was in fact a natural redhead and not the blond I fell for online (nothing wrong with that but it feels incestuous for me). UGH! He leeched from me for two months but by then my two roommates were four and the fun and creative stoners they once were soon turned into meth addicts that got us evicted. I was semi relieved since that meant the leech would have to go home. I had some financially devastating car trouble at the same time and I had to move back home for a year. I was rarely home between work and partying with my friends, so I never gave much thought to my abuser or spent much time in my hometown.
I made a new life for myself. I was still miserable and suicidal, but I had friends! I was partying, dancing, hanging out, having the time of my life, too! It was a strange time. No one ever talked about my abuser. No one asked me a damned thing about any of it. I pretended to be normal. I even made friends with my future husband and hired him as Christmas help at the music store. We started dating after months of friendship and were together a total of 14 years (8 married). We were right for each other as we were both abuse survivors, both depressed and wanting to die. We helped each other. My then-boss is now one of my bffs! He and his partner are two of my nearest and dearest in the world. They are family, my ex-husband is too. In recent years, right before and even soon after I left my husband, he started to ask me questions about what I went through with my abuser. I used to offer some small examples but never laid it out for him. Once I did I think he realized all that had come to pass in our relationship and how my abuser shaped me and he didn’t like it. When we wanted very different things for our future together and I couldn’t take his silence any longer, I left. We’re still good friends and I’ll be attending his wedding this coming September.
I have been with my wonderful boyfriend for 2 years and 4 months. He’s the most incredible man I have ever met! He’s also the smartest and kindest. He trusts me to know what’s right for me. He pushes me out of my comfort zone. He is there for me in ways no one’s ever been able to be. He finds me utterly fascinating, interesting, smart, funny and “the most beautiful and kind girl in the world!” He doesn’t understand what I’m going through right now but he tries so hard. It’s difficult living almost 30 miles away from him now, but we still have the phone at least. We nearly moved in together this past spring, but to be honest, it wasn’t the right time and I chickened out. I was afraid of doing it for the wrong reasons and more so afraid of him seeing the darker sides of me, which is where I’m at now, mentally.
I am okay, for the most part. I am certain that my last job traumatized me. I’m finding job hunting more difficult this time than ever before. While I am full of love and am loved so much, when I’m triggered I hate myself. It feels both awful and comforting to feel this way. I’ve worked so long and so hard to love myself, to love my body and find and be my authentic self. I know I’m an incredible and unique person. I know I am worthy of love and all the good life has to offer. But then I pass by the Dairy Queen that my abuser first made me pee myself in and my head spins. My heart begins to race and if I can’t change the venue soon enough it worsens and I start to disassociate again. It’s been so long! It feels like failure! It feels like all of the work I’ve done on myself was a facade that’s started to crumble. I know this isn’t true! It’s all in my head. PTSD and anxiety is very real and really fucked up!
I’m not afraid of running into my abuser. In fact, just last night I found out that he lives in San Francisco. You’d think that would be a huge relief. But I also found photos of him with so many guns and all of those times he woke me up with a gun in my face came rushing back to me. I didn’t want to see this, but I needed to know once and for all if he actually lived here right now. I wish I could un-see those pictures. I wish I didn’t still have to deal with this shit eighteen years later! But I do and I am trying my damnedest to get through it the best I can. It means I mostly stay in, looking for jobs or unpacking slowly but steadily, doing all I can to distract myself from these memories. I remind myself that I’m a happy person! I’ve been the Director of Happiness and no less than two tech start ups! I’m amazing! But…but…but…
That’s just it. There is no end to this. It is a journey, not a destination. I don’t think what I went through is all that unique. The fact that I survived and rebuilt my life from scratch might be. I dunno. I’m finding out that I need more self care than ever before. More time to do simple things than before. My body is recovering from my spine sprain at that job and the move here just fine. My sleep schedule is a wreck though and I don’t know how I’ll get back on track. My eating disorder pops up from time to time when my anxiety is at it’s worst, but that’s to be expected. When you can’t control what you want you find the one thing you can control, food. Ugh! I hate it, but I’m aware of it and working on it. I give myself small goals each day and reward myself when I get them done or confront something that feels scary. Today that was going to the hardware store. So I got myself some Taco Bell for lunch! Ha-ha! Not a #1 meal, though.
I know I will find it in me to get through this and rebuild my life once again, here. In my hometown. Wow. I’ll figure it out. I always do. This post was difficult to write and scary to post. What will people think? Why does that matter? It’s online, so it will be always, right? Will it affect my career options? Will it come back to bite me later? Who knows?! I can’t worry about that. I can’t worry about other people or possible-future-whatevers. I had to write this. I had to get it out so that I could work through it and on it and hopefully improve my PTSD symptoms once again. I’ll reiterate here again: I share my story because I feel I must. I do not seek pity, sympathy or charity. I just need to get some of this off my chest, as it were. I do not need reassurance or advice. I’m okay! If you have questions, that is okay, please ask them in comments or email me directly.
I often find that after talking about my own abuse survival that other survivors want to reach out to me. That is not only okay, it is welcome. If you’re going through something and need an unbiased ear/eyes, I’m here.
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